How Hong Kong gourmet food start-up Le Dessert is tapping into tech to grow

Established in Hong Kong in 2018 by Paris-born Julien De Preaumont, Le Dessert has quickly gained a reputation for its signature Pavlovas and Charlotte layer cake creations, as well as creative jar desserts and cookies.

With pop-ups in prestigious malls, including Landmark and Pacific Place, and collaborations with luxury brands such as Burberry, Chanel and Cartier, Le Dessert has carved out a space for itself in Hong Kong’s competitive gourmet marketplace.

Le Dessert has since become the number one online patisserie in Hong Kong. 

“2022 is the beginning of a rebirth for Hong Kong and for our company,” De Preaumont told Inside Retail.

Julien De Preaumont

“We started Le Dessert in the midst of the protest and then came the Covid. I feel those crises have reinforced our resilience both as entrepreneurs and as a company.” 

The events forced the company to focus on its online business rather than the old retail playbook. Its recently launched Christmas Collection is already seeing a lot of pre-orders, and the future is looking bright.

The beginning

Le Dessert’s rapid growth is impressive, given De Preaumont’s lack of experience in the food and beverage industry.

“I’m actually not from the F&B industry,” he said. 

“Sure, as any Frenchman I enjoy good food and I love cooking but my background is in tech.”

De Preaumont started his career at PayPal in France, before going on to create a tech start-up in online sport betting. Later, he was the CMO of a digital health start-up. 

When he landed in Hong Kong, he was struck by how much Hong Kongers genuinely love cakes and dessert, so in 2018, he decided to create Le Dessert to bring a modern touch to French patisserie. 

“We like to say that we stand for the three Fs: French, fluffy and fresh. I partnered with a French chef and we created our first signature desserts: the Pavlova,” he said.

Since then, with Julien Zampieri as Executive Chef, the company has continued to expand its range of signature items to include jar desserts, Charlotte layer cakes and Parisian Cookies.

The tech 

Things really started focusing on its online business. Le Dessert uses SleekFlow technology for its backend, and customers can place orders both on the brand’s website or via its WhatsApp channel. Le Dessert then delivers the orders via its own fleet of dessert vans.

“Because my background is in technology, I guess I naturally attached a lot of importance to the ‘customer journey’ right from the beginning,” De Preaumont said.

De Preaumont has tried to build a unique experience for the customer from the discovery of its product – typically on Instagram – to the ordering process, and all the way to generating loyalty via an intimate customer relationship. 

“For example, after each order we ask the customers for their feedback on WhatsApp, so we can keep improving both on the recipes and our service,” he noted.

Apart from this B2C approach, Le Dessert works with prestigious brands like Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Cartier, as well as wholesale customers which represent a growing part of the company’s sales.

The marketplace

“Customers in Hong Kong are very demanding and they have very high standards both in terms of product quality and service. In France, products are good but we seem to have given up on service quality,” De Preaumont explained.

He has observed that when customers in Hong Kong find the right product at the right price, they can become very loyal. But they also crave newness and originality, so product development is a must.

“Since we started, we have created more than 20 versions of our signature Pavlova, playing with recipes and local events such as the CNY [Chinese New Year] or the Mid-Autumn Festival,” he added.

When De Preaumont compares running a business in Hong Kong to his previous roles, one major difference is the frenetic pace that is common in the APAC region.

“Everything goes so much faster in APAC. But this means you have to be quick to seize opportunities. When Covid-19 hit, we thought about a way to make fresh dessert that would be individually packaged and sealed to avoid any contamination,” he said.

This is how the company came up with its iconic jar desserts, which are now very popular for farewell parties.

The platforms

Social media platforms are at the heart of the company’s customer acquisition and retention strategy. Instagram is used to showcase its products and craftsmanship, since it doesn’t have a permanent bricks-and-mortar presence, while WhatsApp offers an intimate communication channel. 

“WhatsApp has been a game changer for us. Meta has recently unveiled some tools that enabled businesses to really tap in what I call ‘conversational e-commerce’,” De Preaumont said.

Le Dessert uses it to offer a personalised customer experience and broadcast new products, with much higher engagement than traditional email marketing. 

“Every month we send a WhatsApp Magazine with all our new creations and customers can order right from their app,” he said.

The mission

Le Dessert is not immune to the economic uncertainty that is currently prevailing around the globe. But De Preaumont has noticed that the indulgence economy endures through the toughest times.

“Even in the hardest of times, people still celebrate the birthday of their loved ones. We are in the indulgence business and the greater the constraint, the more people need to indulge themselves on special occasions,” he said.

Nonetheless, the company has had to take a strategic decision to increase its prices, as there has been an increase in shipping costs for its materials from France and around the globe.

“But I believe this is something that customers can understand when explained clearly. We stand for French craftsmanship with top ingredients, unique creations, and high quality service. People know what they are paying for,” he stated.

He believes the brand’s uniquely French positioning, which he defines as savoir faire, is a huge opportunity for the company.

“Our challenge is to stay true to this mission and to make sure all our employees embrace it. When our chefs, our dessert concierges, our delivery drivers are motivated, they alone make this mission alive,” he stressed.

From creating new recipes to making the right suggestions to customers, and ensuring delivery drivers are making their rounds with smiles on their faces, he said that a lot of factors need to be aligned.

“Our competitive advantage is creativity both in terms of product and service. For example, we just started payments via credit cards through WhatsApp and now people are sending gifts from outside Hong Kong to their friends here, and this accounts for 15 per cent of our sales,” he said.

For the year end, the company is focusing on its Christmas Collections for both corporate and private customers.

“We still have a lot of room to grow online in Hong Kong. Retail is definitely on our radar but since it’s quite expensive and unstable it has never been a starting point,” he said.

His goal is to consolidate the existing model with online recruitment and repeat purchases before thinking about a flagship store that incorporates a dine-in concept.

“As long as it’s French, fluffy and fresh we have no boundaries, and of course you’ll see us at temporary pop-ups from time to time,” he said.

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