Perhaps cropping up during the pandemic to ease the packaging and deliveries for F&B items, I’m starting to notice many more products being packaged in cans, from ice cream to cookies.
They’re not your usual tin cans for tuna or soft drinks though. While they share the same pull-tab aluminium lid, the container is often a see-through plastic to display the products inside.
The packaging makes for great photos, especially if the food inside is layered or positioned correctly.
It’s something The CANs Malaysia (The CANs) is trying to do, but with cakes. Run by two college students in their 20s, Kristen and Shino, their chiffon cakes in cans have garnered tens of thousands, sometimes even millions of views on TikTok.
Thinking outside the box
The idea for the business came around Shino’s birthday last year. During her celebration, her fridge was filled with cakes packaged in large boxes which proved difficult to store and move to and from the fridge.
This led Kristen to wonder if there was an easier way around this issue.
He found videos online of cakes packaged in cans, a more common sight in Japan and often sold in vending machines. Using that as inspiration, Kristen—who had no prior baking experience—adopted the idea while putting in his own twist by adding jelly and puree to the dessert.
Apart from The CANs’ strawberry chiffon can cake, all flavours were created by Kristen himself, which include kiwi, pineapple, yellow peach, and rose lychee, with more currently in the process of R&D. Each can is sold at RM15 and delivered around the Klang Valley.
The procedure of putting the cakes inside the tall packaging is similar to assembling Legos, Kristen told Vulcan Post. “We put all the ingredients (chiffon cake, cream, fruits, and jelly) layer by layer into the cans,” he explained.
It takes them around two hours to make a single completed batch, including preparation and baking. On average, the duo can produce up to 30 cans a day, or 850 cans a month.
Innovation requires investment
The CANs claims to be the first in Malaysia to offer cakes in cans. But being a first-mover didn’t come without its hurdles.
For one, many customers were hesitant to try their cakes since the product was so new and unfamiliar, the team believes.
To add, sourcing suppliers for the transparent plastic packaging and the machines that could seal them was another difficulty they faced.
There was a small silver lining though. Being a home-based business, The CANs faced few issues on the financial side of things. They bootstrapped RM8,000 as capital, with some funds to spare should they choose to one day place and sell their products in vending machines.
In terms of customer reception, things seem to be looking up for The CANs.
It appears that posting content of the cakes on TikTok has gotten Kristen and Shino enough attention from customers sending inquiries. One of their 10-second videos has now amassed about two million views, while other videos of theirs receive an average of 10K-20K views.
“We have seen a 50% increase in sales after many of our TikTok videos have gone viral,” shared Kristen.
So far, the customers who have been purchasing The CANs’ products have been in line with Kristen and Shino’s initial projections. As Kristen disclosed, “The demographics of our customers are females aged 17 to 25. The customers buy the cake because it is aesthetic, unique, tasty, convenient, and suitable for gift-giving.”
There’s more than aesthetics
Other than making the product look aesthetically pleasing, the canned cakes pose the benefits of taking up little refrigerator space and being portable. This means they can be eaten anywhere without the need for plates, making them easier (and pandemic-friendly) to distribute during parties as well.
According to Kristen, the sealed packaging of the cakes also has preservative functions, where their shelf life (if unopened) is up to five days.
However, the use of plastic packaging may contribute to plenty of waste that can be harmful to the environment.
Customers nowadays are also more eco-conscious about the products they purchase, so I wondered if The CANs was putting in any effort to reduce their environmental impact.
“We are aware of the use of single-use plastic for the cans. We reduce the use of plastic by using recycled paper packaging [for deliveries],” they shared.
Some might argue that the cans themselves are a major contributor to waste, so perhaps the team could look into creating educational content around ideas for how customers can reuse the plastic cans, like as trinket containers, or even tiny flower pots.
Changing the packaging of their products are also a viable option, though using more eco-friendly packaging like glass containers may just rack up the cost of their cakes. Once the business scales though, this could be a potential upgrade that appeals to a wider audience.
Ultimately, if the end goal for The CANs is to put their products in vending machines to provide customers with convenient access to their dessert, then the packaging currently used seems to be the best option for now. It would also be beneficial for when the startup decides to deliver to other states, following increasing customer demand.