Founder and CEO Irvin Gunawan was born in Indonesia but has spent the past 17 years in Singapore where he started a restaurant called IRVIN's that became known for its signature salted egg crab dish.
But after struggling in the restaurant business, Gunawan decided to shift focus to packaged snacks inspired by combining its popular salted egg dish with crispy potato chips and fish skins.
The process involves taking the yolk from duck eggs that have been sitting in a salty clay brine for 30 days. The yolk is then cooked over a flaming hot wok until it bubbles and is combined with a blend of chilis and other spices before being gently mixed with the chips (potato or crispy salmon skins) forming the salted egg chips.
"Really when you talk about the boom that led to how I expanded my company globally was when I transformed the food from the restaurant to become packaged snacks," Gunawan told FoodNavigator-USA.
The products quickly took off among Singaporean consumers as well as in the Phillippines and other Asian markets.
"We were opening one factory per year to expand our supply," said Gunawan.
Now, IRVINS is a well-recognized brand name with dedicated storefronts in Asia branded in its signature yellow color.
Gunawan said that the brand started to pick up international steam when it began selling in airports where consumers from all over the world could discover the brand before catching their next flight.
"They were looking to bring back something from Singapore and IRVINS fit the bill," said Gunawan.
After establishing a presence at airports, it wasn't long before Gunawan got into contact with US-based digital media and film company Wong Fus Production, which started selling IRVINS products on its website and at its Bopomofo Cafe in California.
From there, Gunawan began working with West Coast distributors who helped the brand get into independent retail accounts and Asian supermarkets such as H Mart (where Cardi B discovered the product and sang its praises creating a consumer buzz for the brand), said Gunawan.
Other notable names from the culinary world including Andrew Zimmern and David Chang also independently discovered IRVINS salted egg chips, giving the brand a visibility boost in the US market.
US retail push: 'We want to work with American companies to make some localized products'
Gunawan shared that the brand is still in the early stages of establishing a strong foothold in more mainstream accounts but that strong retailer interest is there.
By the end of the year, IRVINS will be stocked in 100 Costco stores in the US and is entering other mainstream retailers, where it will either sit next to snacking heavyweights such as Frito-Lay or in the 'Asian' center store aisles, the latter becoming more of a consumer draw for consumers looking to discover new products.
For instance, Kroger named umami (often referred to as the 'fifth' flavor and lingering, rich taste profile present in fish sauce, soy sauce, and some cheeses) as one of its top emerging flavor trends for 2022.
"The Asian snack aisles are one of the highest-growing segments, and it's really huge now," said Gunawan, who is studying the US market to develop products that satisfy consumers' desire for global flavors but are still slightly familiar.
Gunawan acknowledges that crispy salmon skins may be a hard sell for less adventurous consumers, which is why the brand also offers more universal products such as its salted egg potato chips and is expanding flavors with new launches including sour cream & onion and truffle potato chips.
It is also working on some more 'clean label' versions of its products that omit certain ingredients such as MSG to gain distribution into popular natural retailers.
"We want to work with American companies to make some localized products," said Gunawan, who is most focused on expanding his US distribution footprint over the next year and says IRVINS products will soon be available in more mainstream and natural retailers.