In Thailand, the Blue Elephant brand is an institution and a mark of luxury.
The privately owned, Bangkok-based company, known for its high-end food products and fine dining restaurants, has long had ambitions for its royal Thai cuisine beyond its home shores. The growing popularity of Thai food worldwide has helped its goal in the last decade of becoming the world's premium brand in the category.
Blue Elephant's entry into the Canadian market came in 2006 with its current partner, DoveTale Collections. The Ottawa-based online gourmet food retailer and distributor came recommended by a company that represents Blue Elephant in Europe.
Ready-to-eat food, such as rice crackers and Thai-style spiced nuts, are particularly popular in Canada, owing to the fast-paced lives of Blue Elephant's core customer base in urban centres like Toronto and Vancouver.
The range of curry pastes are also strong sellers.
Xavier Le Boucher, managing director of Blue Elephant's Blue Spice Co. Ltd., leads the team of two that looks after international marketing of its snacks and food products division.
"We provide the best-quality Thai ingredients to prepare a Thai meal at home," he says. "Today, people know the difference between Thai and the rest of Asian cuisine. The particularity of Thai food is the freshness of ingredients and the multiplicity of ingredients. Sometimes, 20 to 25 ingredients go into one curry paste."
Keeping with the standards of royal household cookery, Blue Elephant doesn't take chemical shortcuts and uses organic, high-quality ingredients, many of which come from The Royal Project Foundation. That is an initiative, started by a private group with the patronage of the Thai king, to replace opium farming in the hinterlands with organic produce cultivation, allowing small farmers a viable option to the drug trade.
Though Blue Elephant has more than 100 employees, most of them deal with production. The entire marketing team consists of about 10 people, only two of whom look at the international market. Blue Elephant's global strategy hinges on two dozen or so distributors in as many countries.
"We are a small company. We don't have the team and the resources to go ourselves and deal with the different countries," Mr. Le Boucher says.
"Plus, there is a difference in how every country consumes and sells the products," adds Mr. Le Boucher, who is originally from France but moved to Thailand more than two years ago to head the division.
"We prefer to sell not as ethnic food, but as fine food. For us, Canada grew quite quickly and now it is a mature market for us. In Canada, DoveTale makes sure they display our products as a concept, not just as one of many items on a shelf. In stores, we have our own display with the design and the logo, where all our products are showcased.
"What we don't want is to be displayed on a shelf with other similar products because we are not the same. We have the best quality that we can offer, so we are more expensive than other brands."
Special to the Globe and Mail
Alexandra A. Seno has written about economics and business trends in Asia since 1994. She is a regular contributor to Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.
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