Patisserie survives pandemic fallout with online sales
Assuming the role in January, Henri Charpentier's CEO has managed to turn business around amid the Covid fallout
Patisserie Henri Charpentier sold more than 29 million financiers from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018, a Guinness world record.
The financiers are small butter-almond cakes from Henri Charpentier, established in 1969 in Ashiya, Japan, and they are among the most popular in the world. The patisserie has 95 stores in Japan, and four in Singapore.
Mrs Ami Arita, 42, a Japanese real estate and finance lawyer of 15 years, took over as the brand's chief executive here in January.
The daughter-in-law of the founder, she was eager to expand to South-east Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. But barely three months into her new job, the pandemic struck and the outlets here had to shut for two weeks during the circuit breaker in April.
This was a worrying period for Mrs Arita, who felt the pressure of losing the family business under her watch.
Takings for the company here fell by more than 50 per cent, and went as low as $55 a day.
Mrs Arita told The New Paper: "I was so scared that I would not be able to face the situation on my own. What if I had no choice but to let go of all my employees? The most frightening thing was if I had to close any of the stores."
She then had the idea of pivoting the business online via Facebook and food ordering system Oddle Eats.
Business picked up gradually, and now, sales and profits have stabilised and returned to pre-Covid levels.
She said: "Technique and quality ingredients are what set us apart. We source our butter from a farm in Hokkaido, which produces it only for the brand."
According to Mrs Arita, a French brand is trying to break Henri Charpentier's Guinness World Record mark, but the "numbers do not matter" to her.
She said: "Getting a world record is a fortunate thing and I'm proud, but I am not too concerned about maintaining the top position. We still have cheesecakes and shortcakes that are loved by customers."
She remains concerned over the well-being of her employees. Many of Henri Charpentier Singapore's pastry chefs come from Malaysia and have not seen their families for months.
"One of them gave birth last November and she hasn't seen her baby in nine months. It's really sad, and as a mother and wife, I can relate to them in this painful situation," she said.
Mrs Arita herself has been separated from her husband, the CEO of Henri Charpentier Japan, since Jan 4 because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The couple were supposed to meet either in Japan or Singapore every two months, but nightly phone calls will have to suffice for now.
Mrs Arita and their two sons, aged seven and 10, are based here, and it is the thought of succeeding in the Singapore market that keeps her going.
She said: "Singaporeans love their pastries and Japanese food. I am at my happiest when I get compliments from customers, but also the lowest when it's the contrary."