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S’porean couple turns post-pregnancy craving for chicken collagen soup into S$1 million revenue in less than a year

Mothership logo Mothership 7/4/2021 Fasiha Nazren
a bowl of food on a plate © Provided by Mothership

Who would have thought that a post-pregnancy craving could give birth to a successful F&B business?

Ethel Neo, 30, was in her confinement period after the birth of her first son in 2018 when she started craving chicken collagen soup.

As someone who prefers to cook her own food, the self-confessed foodie then tried her hand at making the collagen soup from scratch.

A lot of chicken feet

Almost two years and many, many kilograms of chicken feet later, she finally managed to perfect a recipe that satisfied her craving.

a woman sitting at a table with wine glasses and smiling at the camera: Photo courtesy of Peter Lau and Ethel Neo. © Provided by Mothership Photo courtesy of Peter Lau and Ethel Neo.

If you're wondering what it's like to drink collagen soup almost every day, here's what Neo's 36-year-old husband, Peter Lau, hesitantly said in front of his wife: "Trying the same thing every day to perfect it can be a bit... too much."

"Now we only drink it on special occasions," Neo chimed in.

The true fan of the collagen soup, however, is their two-year-old son who has it every single day.

But all that soup drinking and chicken feet stewing didn't go in vain after all.

You see, Neo didn't just make the collagen soup for her own consumption.

She would also prepare her soup for gatherings with family and close friends, all of whom had showered her cooking with compliments.

Neo said: "When I started making it, I got a lot of requests from my family, friends and even friends of friends. So I thought, ok, there is a demand for this."

The thing is, however, it's not exactly easy to make a large batch of chicken collagen soup from scratch.

Up to eight hours to boil soup

It takes up to eight hours just to boil the soup, which would have then been reduced to just a bowl of soup.

And that doesn't include the time required to prepare the ingredients and to clean up the kitchen afterwards, which Lau jokingly said was his main duty.

After months of sourcing, thankfully, they managed to find a manufacturer that could replicate the recipe to produce the soup in bulk as CHU Collagen, a frozen and prepackaged collagen soup.

Everything went well and they were ready to market their product for sale online in April 2020.

What they didn't know then, however, was that their launch coincided with the start of the circuit breaker period.

Neo and Lau admitted that they were both scared at first as they didn't know what to expect during such a daunting time.

As if there wasn't enough to worry about, the couple were uncertain whether their collagen soup would be well-received by the public.

Calling themselves a pair of risk-takers, they bit the bullet and went ahead with their original plans anyway.

"We didn't want to delay our plans because the factory had already manufactured the soups based on what we originally forecasted," Lau said.

And it seems like everything was worth the risk after all.

In fact, Lau would say that the timing was "perfect" because the circuit breaker period happened to be a time where a lot of Singaporeans turned into home chefs and so many people took a chance on CHU Collagen.

In Sep. 2020, the chicken collagen soup was listed at FairPrice Finest outlets and sold out at nine outlets within the first day.

Their soups were also completely sold out online two weeks before the Chinese New Year in 2021.

In less than a year, CHU Collagen has made S$1 million in revenue as seen in financial statements shown to Mothership.

Not bad at all for something that started out as a craving.

Rave reviews from famous Cantonese chef

Since its launch, CHU Collagen has received a lot of rave reviews, including one from an apparently famous chef of a popular Cantonese restaurant chain.

Neo sheepishly told us: "We gifted a very famous chef in Singapore our soup and received feedback that it was very good. For a well-renowned chef to appreciate our soup, it really boosted our confidence."

The chef loved the soup so much, he apparently bought more to gift them to his staff.

To them, however, one of the most valued compliments has to be the very first "thank you" email they received from one of their customers.

"When customers write in to us to tell us how much they enjoyed the soup, it really made us so happy. It made us very motivated to improve and do better," Lau said.

The taste test

To put it in numbers, CHU Collagen’s perfect five-star rating is based on 81 reviews on Google.

Curious to know if it is indeed worth the hype, we tried all three offerings from CHU Collagen.

To judge it fairly, we prepared all of the soups as part of a hotpot.

So here's our take on the products:

Premium Chicken Collagen Soup

The premium chicken collagen soup is the flagship product for a reason.

a bowl of soup: Photo by Karen Lui. © Provided by Mothership Photo by Karen Lui.

The soup was pleasantly robust and umami without tasting that it was laden with MSG.

Instead, it reminded us of homemade chicken soup so one could easily trick people into thinking that you made the soup yourself.

Since it is a collagen soup, it has a thicker consistency.

But if you're not used to the thickness, you can always add more water without compromising much of the flavour.

a bowl of food on a plate: Photo by Karen Lui. © Provided by Mothership Photo by Karen Lui.

This flavour is one many would enjoy having especially on a cold, rainy day.

Rating: 5 out of 5. Can't go wrong with this one for communal hotpots.

Spice level: 0 out of 5. Literally chicken feet.

Premium Prawn Mee Soup

As one would know, making prawn mee takes a lot of time to prepare as well.

Upon boiling the frozen soup base, the entire office could smell the aromatic stock of prawn heads and that made us really look forward to the soup.

a bowl of food on a plate: Photo by Fasiha Nazren. © Provided by Mothership Photo by Fasiha Nazren.

As expected, the prawn mee soup had a strong prawn flavour and just like the chicken collagen soup, doesn't taste like the typical frozen or instant food.

Be warned, though. This prawn mee soup is on the peppery side so you may want to prepare a glass of water as part of the meal.

a bowl of food: Photo by Fasiha Nazren. © Provided by Mothership Photo by Fasiha Nazren.

Our only gripe? The soup was a little oily so it made the experience a little less appetising.

Rating: 4 out 5. Legit prawn mee soup, just a little greasy.

Spice level: 4 out of 5. Quite shiok.

Premium Laksa Soup

The premium laksa soup is the latest addition to the growing variety of CHU Collagen products.

The first thing we noticed was how thick the laksa soup actually is compared to other laksa soup bases we've seen at most hotpot eateries.

a bowl of food on a plate: Photo by Fasiha Nazren. © Provided by Mothership Photo by Fasiha Nazren.

This is a rich laksa broth with a noticeable coconut milk flavour.

And again, just like the other soups, this didn't taste like a store-bought soup base at all.

The soup also coated the noodles evenly, providing a flavourful bite every time.

a person sitting at a table with a plate of food: Photo by Fasiha Nazren. © Provided by Mothership Photo by Fasiha Nazren.

Our only complaint is that it lacks a fiery punch (as a base of comparison, the prawn mee soup is spicier) that one would often expect from laksa thus making it quite surfeiting.

Though, you can probably zhng it up with your own sambal.

Overall, a great option for communal hotpots with children and those who can't take spicy food.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5. Don't get us wrong, the laksa is good. But given a choice, we'd rather get the chicken collagen soup or the prawn mee soup over this.

Spice level: 2 out of 5. Overall, a great option for communal hotpots with children and those who can't take spicy food,

While some may be intimidated by the premium pricing, we'd say that it is a worthy buy at least for special occasions.

And while the serving suggests that it can feed up to two persons, the soup bases packs quite the punch and are rather concentrated.

We added water to suit our taste for all of the soups and it easily fed up to five hungry colleagues.

Extremely supportive father

If you've been following CHU Collagen, you would notice that it is also a hit among local celebrities, especially filmmaker Jack Neo.

That's partly because Jack is Neo's father.

And as a doting father, Jack was more than eager to help his daughter promote her growing F&B business.

Growing up as a child of a celebrity, Neo knew that whether she liked it or not, she would always be associated with her father.

"I don't think I can ever step out of his shadow. Neo is also quite an uncommon surname in Singapore so people would often ask me if I'm related to Jack Neo."

However, that also motivated her to let CHU Collagen succeed on its own and so for a good six months, not many people were aware of the people behind the brand.

It goes without saying that they put in a lot of hard work into this venture.

Neo, who recently welcomed their second son in February, told us that her husband personally did some of the deliveries even just a day before she gave birth.

She wasn’t lazing around either.

Right after delivering her second child, she got back to work and started replying to emails.

After some time and a steady stream of positive reviews, Jack was roped in to help with social media marketing. That was at his insistence too, Neo and Lau told us.

Neo said: "He was very bored during the circuit breaker as well and kept asking us 'Do you need help marketing it? Papa can help!'"

"He was looking at Wang Lei [doing live auctions] and said 'if Wang Lei can do, papa can do also'," Lau added.

While they laughed reminiscing these jovial moments with Jack, they also didn't forget to mention how appreciative and blessed they are to have a supportive fan in him.

Spouses and business partners

Some people might have doubts about married couples working together.

However, Neo and Lau make being both spouses and business partners look like a breeze.

In fact, CHU Collagen isn't the first business they've started together.

The couple are also founders of Éclat by Oui, a diamond simulant jewellery brand they started in 2017.

This, Neo shared, was a good "training ground" for them to work together and get to know each other as business partners.

Their secret to working well together? Delegating their roles and responsibilities.

Neo is in charge of the recipes and the branding of the product, including the design of the logo and packaging.

Lau, on the other hand, likens himself to be a saikang warrior (he even does the delivery sometimes and the title on his name card reads Chief Saikang Officer, no joke) who handles more of the logistics and administration side of the business.

They also acknowledged that it's difficult to keep their work and personal lives separate but they have two rules that help with their relationship:

  • Never talk about work on date night.
  • Never bring unresolved conflicts overnight.

"Which is why we sleep very late at night!" Neo quipped.

And it seems like it's working based on the sweet captions they often pen for one another on Instagram.

Awwww.

What's next?

The couple has many ambitious plans for the future, but a lot of them are in the pipeline.

For one, they have launched a monthly subscription plan for the soups, delivering them right at your doorstep.

This, it seems, is the first-ever subscription plan for frozen soup in Singapore.

From now till April 14, customers can get a 20 per cent discount on the subscription every month.

More information on the subscription plan can be found here.

CHU Collagen will also be available on Shopee by mid-April and physically at Eccellente by HAO Mart supermarkets in the next few months.

CHU Collagen soups are currently available for sale online or exclusively at FairPrice Finest outlets from S$11 to S$14 per 500ml pouch.

This sponsored article by CHU Collagen has made the writer crave chicken collagen soup again.

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