Editor: Judy Chen
Bian-dang, a packed single-portion take-out meal, is so common in Taiwanese daily life. A traditional Bian-dang holds rice and meat along with cooked vegetables in a box. Now you can find it in every convenience store, and you will not be surprised to see a wide variety of bian-dang styles ranging from Chinese, Japanese to Italian. Taiwan Railways alone sold over 10 million bian-dangs in 2016. Students eat bian-dang at school, office workers eat bian-dang during their lunch meetings, and families eat bian-dang when traveling on the train.
Pierre Guyon, co-owner of Eatsmart, is one of those expats who are deeply fond of the bian-dang culture. “The need for healthy bian-dang will definitely grow,” he thought. Since he moved to Taiwan in 2014, he has observed the continual growth of vegan and naked food restaurants, and that the healthy eating has been a trend. This year, he took over and renewed the Eatsmart brand, which provides healthy and tasty bian-dangs via subscription to individuals and corporates.
Start up in Taiwan: the best crème brûlée in Taipei
Before settling down in Taiwan, Guyon worked as a business development consultant at KPMG in Paris, and later joined the Finance team of Valeo Korea in Daegu. After traveling around Asia, he decided to move to Taiwan and start his own business.
“I always wanted to have my own business, and I think Taiwan is a good place for startups,” said Guyon. Street food culture is popular in Taiwan, but when it comes to French pastry, he said “it is not easy to find price-friendly and authentic French pastry which is supposed to be an everyday life thing.” Seeing this opportunity in the market, he bought a food stand and renovated it on his own. Renting a space in a parking lot near the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall Station of Taipei metro, he officially created the French pastry brand “Le Panier de Paris.”
Within a year, positive reviews for Le Panier de Paris spread online. People called his crème brûlée “the best crème brûlée in Taipei.” At the peak of his sales, he opened an extra stand in Maji Maji, a trendy market space in Yuanshan, Taipei. Despite the growth in sales, revenue still could not cover the time needed to craft quality desserts. By the end of 2016, he gradually closed his food stands to only take orderes online.
Eatsmart: healthy and tasty bian-dangs made by French chefs.
Drawing from his food and beverage experience in Taiwan from the past three years, Guyon continued to find new business opportunities. This May, he joined Eatsmart team and became the co-owner of the company. He recruited a new IT specialist to create a brand new website, and improved both human resource and ingredient purchase management. Ordering meals on the new bilingual website became easier for customers and gave them nutritional information about their meal.
Each week, Eatsmart’s chef who hail from France create a menu of 20 meals. Today, they have more than 200 recipes they have delivered to their customers, who enjoy delicious meals with healthy substitutes to the usual ingredients. Eatsmart uses high-protein chicken breast or fish instead of pork, olive oil instead of butter, and brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice. How about bread? They use fresh rye bread baked by Eric Bakery, whose chef makes authentic French bread.
The quality of Eatsmart ‘s bian-dang is reflected in its price, which is much higher than the average in Taiwan. Guyon explained, “We choose quality ingredients and count calories for customers. The quality of food is as good as à la carte but the price is actually lower.” He positions his product at à la carte level in the form of bian-dang with delivery service, targeting those who are too busy to cook for themselves but still want to eat healthy at home or at work.
Three programs of meals were designed to meet the dietary needs of different customers. For example, The Slim Program consists of low-calorie meals with just the right amount of protein and nutrients to balance burning fat and staying healthy. If you’re a gym rat or do a lot of exercise, you might consider the Lift Program, which serves meal high in proteins and low in carbohydrats. Now 100-150 bian-dangs are sold every day, and Guyon is positive about the growth of the needs.
“Being true to your customers is the key to overcome cultural barriers.”
“Based on my Asian experience, I still prefer the lifestyle in Taiwan. It is true that you have other choices if you are aiming a bigger market to earn more money. But I see Taiwan as a place where I can have a quality life as an entrepreneur,” said Guyon. “Also, there are many startup communities and resources here, and it is easy to make friends in the startup circle. There are always friends who can help.”
“It is key to be familiar with the local culture when you enter a foreign market. So being able to speak Mandarin will be a great start in Taiwan. The market trend changes very fast especially in the food industry. To survive in such a competitive industry, we have to know what is happening around us and grow with our customers. That is the challenge but the opportunity as well.”
Guyon also emphasized the importance of honesty in making a successful business. “Be true to your customers. That is how we overcome cultural barriers,” said Guyon. For example, it is important to listen to the customers. Do customers who work out find their Lift Program meal effective? Do they like the flavor? Guyon not only interacts with followrs on social media, but texts or calls regular customers to learn their feedback and build solid relationships. “However, I think success still relies on how good your product is. Good marketing stories will still be in vain if the product does not truly echo the market need,” Guyon firmly believes.
About Pierre Guyon
Pierre Guyon is a French entrepreneur based in Taipei. He studied at Sciences Po and Korea University in Seoul and worked in finance at Valeo Korea before settling down in Taiwan in 2014, where he has since founded several startups. In 2015, Pierre won the 1st Prize of the CCIFT SME Entrepreneur Awards 2015.