Taiwan’s tourism factory model inspires Malaysian chocolate baron

Malaysian entrepreneur Teng Sze-choong and his daughters display their Taiwan-inspired own brand chocolates. (Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)

Malaysian entrepreneur Teng Sze-choong and his daughters display their Taiwan-inspired own brand chocolates. (Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)

Teaching tourists how to make chocolate orangutans is one of the more creative business ideas that has helped Teng Sze-choong transform his confectionery company into one of the largest chocolate retailers in Malaysia, and it is all thanks to lessons he learned when he was in Taiwan.
 
The 65-year-old founder of Harriston said he got the idea for his chocolate workshops from Taiwan’s tourism factory model. “This operation has worked well in attracting large numbers of visitors and boosting our brand awareness” he said. “Consequently, we’re able to increase our customer base and grow a successful business.”
 
In an effort to combat competition mainly from low-cost rivals in China, Taiwan initiated a tourism factory model in 2003. This involved encouraging small and medium enterprises to open their premises to visitors as a way of generating extra revenue. Taiwan boasts 130 of these ventures in sectors spanning beauty and health care, food and alcohol, metalworking and robotics.

A staffer readies chocolates for retail at a Harriston processing center. (Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)

A staffer readies chocolates for retail at a Harriston processing center. (Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)

Teng’s five chocolate stores have welcomed 7.5 million visitors from 85 countries and territories since 2005, the year he opened his first chocolate shop. Business is so good he started manufacturing his own brand chocolates in 2012.
 
Visitors can learn about the history of chocolate, cacao cultivation and harvesting, how chocolate is made and all the types of chocolate—from milk to white, dark to unsweetened—and what each is best for through guided tours, interpretive displays, live demonstrations and photos. Moreover, for 35 ringgit (US$8.60) each, they can try their hands at molding bars, piping out lollipops, painting cookies and crafting a white and dark chocolate orangutan and then eating the fruits of their labor.

Visitors at a Harriston’s workshop learn about the different types of chocolate. (Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)

Visitors at a Harriston’s workshop learn about the different types of chocolate. (Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)

The chocolate baron’s ties to Taiwan go deeper than tourism factories. He got his grounding in the world of commerce while studying international trade at Fu Jen Catholic University in New Taipei City in the 1970s.
 
This meant Taiwan was a natural choice when Tseng started looking for new suppliers and business ideas this year. He is currently exploring buying cacao beans from a farm in Pingtung County, southern Taiwan, and also working with handicraft makers in the country to add to his stores’ product lines.
 
At the Harriston chocolate factory, the sheer variety of produce on display, swirls of red, brown and white; sweets flavored with chili, ginger and even durian, is breathtaking. Teng’s Taiwan-inspired business idea has worked a treat and offers a mouthwatering example for Taiwan firms eyeing the sweet tooth market of Malaysia. (By Kelly Her)

Harriston chocolates come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. (Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)

Harriston chocolates come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. (Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)

(This article is adapted from “Mouthwatering Market” in the September/October 2018 issue of Taiwan Review. The Taiwan Review archives dating to 1951 are available online.)