China's First Ever Cinnamon Roll Bakery
In the Western World, cinnamon rolls are no big revolution. You can find them everywhere from specialty shops to general bakeries all the way to the frozen food aisle section of your local grocery store. So, what if I told you there was an area of the world that hadn’t ever tasted a cinnamon roll until 2011?
Jared Turner-- Cofounder of CinnaSwirl in China-- was shocked when he realized that, too. Jared and his wife Heather founded the first ever cinnamon roll shop in China, and it all started with a question posed to a bunch of people on a forum. The opportunity presented itself when someone was asking where they could get a decent cinnamon roll in Shanghai. There were a few people that directed the asker of the question to places that served things ‘like’ cinnamon rolls, but no one really had an answer.
Then, someone descended into the chat thread and linked Turner’s wife’s cinnamon roll recipe from her blog.
People began to use her recipe to make the cinnamon rolls and they were absolutely blown away by how good they were. People descended into her email inbox to ask her if she was making these professionally and if they could order some if she was, and the idea sparked from there. They set a price, began making cinnamon rolls in their kitchen, and Turner started delivering home-baked cinnamon in Shanghai.
Two and a half years after this all took place, they ended up breaking down and expanding from their kitchen to a brick-and-mortar store. In the beginning, their clients were all foreigners. People traveling from the Western World in Asia who craved a simple taste from home. So, in order to get their product out to an entire population of people who had no idea what a cinnamon roll was, they did various night markets.
This gave Turner and his wife the chance to interact with customers. They were able to get the word out about their product as well as test it on the Eastern World’s palettes, and they were there to answer any questions they had. The biggest obstacle, however, was tossing aside all their assumptions about cinnamon rolls they brought from the Western World.
For example, when an American smells the cinnamon-sugary mixture we associate with a cinnamon roll, we know exactly what that is. It is a luscious, piping hot treasure trove of calories and fat that melts in our mouths as we enjoy it.
But, to those in China, it was simply a strange but alluring smell. They had no food visual to associate with it and no prior palette experience for Turner to draw from in an attempt to describe this food to them. They had to treat the basic cinnamon roll like a new product launch because China had no history of this treat ever having existed!
They took this blank slate opportunity to combine this alluring smell with a tantalizing oral experience in order to connect the two floating neurons within the Chinese culture, and now they are battling against growing perceptions. For instance, cinnamon has a highly medicinal perception in the Eastern World, so many women would recommend their CinnaSwirl shop to their friends who were on their periods.
Why? Because cinnamon has been known to treat menstrual cramps. Yeah. We said that.
While that medicinal perception has fueled their business, Turner believes in keeping an honest front with the locals, so they are having to do a bit of educating alongside keeping their product low in levels of variance. Turner’s MBA in Business and his love of process and operations improvement helped him to standardize how they create their cinnamon rolls in order to deliver a consistent product. Their rigid processing and quality measures ensures their customers get the best every single time.
For Turner and his wife, there is no issue with them solely focusing on cinnamon rolls. Not only to they own the space, but being brilliant at one product sends a clear and focused message to their clientele. They do not battle with anyone in their space right now because no one else is doing cinnamon rolls, and it has given them a chance to expand and rebrand themselves in a way that is alluring to the local population as well as to the foreigners.
His history in market research has also helped them to rebrand. Turner is always reaching out to the community in order to conduct research and trial runs of new products as well as trying to figure out in-demand their product is. And, to give you an idea of how much their product is loved, one market research he conducted showed him that 65% of their overall customer base travels at least 30 minutes to get a cinnamon roll from their shop.
If there is one thing Turner believes in, it’s this: if there is a consistent problem with the product, then there’s a problem with the process, not the people. This belief has enabled him to take away his personal feelings towards their product and look at it from an objective point of view so that he can run a smooth business as well as present a consistent product his customers will love.
If you ever find yourself in China and you miss the sweet taste of home, then Jared Turner and his wife created CinnaSwirl just for you.
*Picture from Shanghai Family