How a Thai local delicacy achieved internet fame

Thailand is world famous as for its food produce, from seafood to fruits and rice. And each district is home to its own delicacies. In the seaside province of Chanthaburi, the most renowned specialty is khlong khlung poo khai dong, spicy marinated female crabs from the Khlung district.

It wasn’t always like this for this sleepy town a three-hour drive east of Bangkok. The unique crabs were hard to source outside of Khlung, and rarely at quite the same level of quality as could be enjoyed on site. A bit of mobile internet magic would eventually change all that, as the brand Khlong Khlung Poo Khai Dong built a nationwide following on Facebook.

To better understand this phenomenon, we spoke to its founder, Phenphan Phongsiri.

Offline Beginning

Ms. Phenphan is a native of Khlung, where her parents own a small fruit orchard. After some time working in radio, she up enough to open a café in her hometown, selling cake and coffee.

“After a year, sales went down dramatically. There’s just so much coffee and cake people will eat in a small town, right? Some days, I made only a few hundred Baht, so I thought, ‘I’ve had enough. I have to do something else.’”

In 2017, during the time Phenphan was wondering what else to do, a friend of hers in Bangkok called and asked her to send some crab from Khlung. Little did she know that would change her life.

"At that time poo khai dong seemed to be trending, so I thought I would try making it. At first, I had to learn from someone in the community how to prepare it. Then I had to differentiate myself from others by creating my own signature sauce. All the ingredients were available locally, especially the sea crab, which is of very high quality: fresh and clean. Then you need the proper marinade process in prik-gluea (chili and salt) which is uniquely extreme in taste, the way people in the East like it. This combination made me confident my poo khai dong is extraordinary.”

After creating her own product, Ms. Phenphan decided to sell her creation on her personal Facebook page with some help from word-of-mouth in the neighbourhood. But sales were very low, despite her confidence in having a quality product.

“I so was disappointed because I had a good product in hand, but did not know how find customers,” she told dtacblog.

The Internet Game Changer

At the time, Phenphan’s financial situation was becoming critical. The family’s fruit business was barely surviving and the café was doing so poorly, Ms. Phenphan’s husband suggested closing it.

In September 2017, dtac launched a project called Net Arsa (volunteer internet) in several provinces. It introduced people in rural areas to ways of utilizing mobile internet to find new income streams. The team happened to visit Khlung and Phenphan attended their workshop. She learned from the workshop that her marketing was not up to snuff.

"The facilitators taught us from step one. At that time, I did not even know the difference between a personal account and a commercial page on Facebook. The more I learned, the more I understood how wrong I was. I mean, ordinary people can sell online, you don’t need to be celebrity, but there are basics you need to understand,” she said.

After the training, Phenphan created her a new Facebook page, which quickly grew.

“The first year, I didn’t know how to sell on the internet, suffered a big loss and became so discouraged. But after I created my own page, I started to see some money come my way, with more and more people ordering.”

Spicy Crabs Go National

Poo Khai Dong Khlong Khlung has the key advantage of being right at the source of its key ingredient. But they suffer from locals’ low purchasing power.

"With the mobile internet, everything changes. It opened up a much larger market for us. In the past, our market was 50,000 to 60,000 people with limited purchasing power. But with sales going online, we can now reach 70 million people around the country,” said Ms. Phenphan.

In its second year, Ms. Phenphan turned a profit. And between the 3rd and 4th year, revenues exceeded one million baht.

 

“I still cannot believe that online selling turned around my life like this. To think that the product and its preparation is exactly the same as before, but the sales are completely different. My proudest achievement is not making six- or seven-digit earnings but putting Khlung on the map. When people talk about poo khai dong Khlong Khlung, our district name is in there. I’m so proud of that as we get mentioned by people from all over the country.”