Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and we don’t really blame you as we head into day 3948759458 of lockdown), you will have noticed the world going absolutely mad for Little Moons.
Whether TikTokers are posting about them online (320.8m impressions and counting), foodies are queuing around the block to get their hands on them at Waitrose or celebrities are capturing mouthwatering content devouring them, Little Moons are the pandemic’s greatest success story.
So wait, first thing’s first: what the hell are they? Little Moons are delicious gelatinous Japanese dessert balls which are basically balls of artisan ice cream wrapped in soft mochi dough. They’re the brainchild of brother and sister, Howard & Vivien Wong, who launched their now-famous balls in 2010 on a mission to bring Japanese mochi with a delicious, modern twist to the masses. It’s safe to say it worked: one Little Moon passes someone’s lips every single second, sales are up 2,500% at Tesco week-on-week (where ten packs sell every minute) and the balls are totally sold out on Amazon Fresh.
Desperate to discover the success story being Little Moons, GLAMOUR caught up with one of the brand’s founders, Vivien Wong, to find out how she and her brother launched their business, the challenges they overcame in the early days and what’s next for the social media famous brand.
My dad’s cancer diagnosis inspired me to launch the brand
Growing up, we had always worked weekends at our parents’ bakery and I continued to help whilst I trained to be a chartered accountant. On qualification I went on to work in Barclays Capital but craved a more fulfilling, creative, and flexible career. My dad’s cancer diagnosis made me realise there is no guarantee of a tomorrow so decided not to take another day for granted. I decided to make a bucket list and number one on the list was starting my own business. This gave me the drive to start Little Moons with my brother Howard.
Our parents’ bakery made traditional mochi (filled with red bean paste instead of ice cream) and we always loved the texture of mochi. When we tasted this combined with ice cream, we knew instantly that we needed to bring this to the UK. With our dad’s help, it was a labour of love but we crafted the perfect ice cream mochi recipe.
Funding was difficult in the early days
Building a brand is an expensive endeavour and we didn’t initially have the funds. Therefore we initially only sold Little Moons to restaurants across the UK and Europe. We reinvested all profits back into the business and in 2015, with some investment from our family, we decided to engage a branding company to help us create a retail brand.
We approached Wholefoods market with a range of retail packs of Little Moons. We fast became their best selling ice cream and we continued to gain listings on Ocado, Waitrose and Tescos.
We’ve grown using our own resources, reinvesting all profits back into the business and to date have avoided taking significant investment from elsewhere. Howard and I even moved in together to save money. With much relief, we are now in our own separate homes!
Convincing the UK what mochi actually was, was the biggest challenge
The main challenges for us were that much of the population had no idea what mochi was, and that the texture was not one that was familiar to many people. We had to invest a lot of time educating the market and introducing a brand-new product and texture. Another challenge that we had was trying to get listed by distributors or restaurants. The challenge was convincing customers that if they put us on their menu, that we would still be around in a month. Failure rates of new companies are high so I could not fault their logic but then you are caught in catch 22 and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It took a lot of tenacity – and I like to think charm – to take a chance on us.
We had an email from a guy who had climbed into a Yo! Sushi bin to find our packaging so he could contact us directly about buying Little Moons from us
We spent a lot of time developing and refining our recipes and I believe this is central to our success. We used chefs from top London restaurants to advise and recommend ice cream flavours and were to source the best ingredients from. I think we started to realise that the brand was taking off when we started getting emails from people asking if we would supply them privately. We had an email from a guy who had climbed into a Yo! Sushi bin to find our packaging so he could contact us directly about buying Little Moons from us. It was also super encouraging when we emailed Wholefoods buyer about stocking us expecting not to get a response. He emailed back 2 minute later saying ‘You had me at Mochi’.
TikTok changed our world overnight
When the brand entered retail in 2015, we started to build our social media presence. And since then, we’ve had an incredibly engaged and active community of fans on mainly Facebook and Instagram. Our products are colourful and playful so they lend themselves well to being photographed! And then last year in Germany, Little Moons started to go ‘viral’ and we started to feel then that we were approaching a bit of a tipping point. We actually said to each other ‘wouldn’t it be great if this happened in the UK’.
Fast-forward to January 2021, Little Moons goes viral on TikTok and our world changed literally over night. While I’d love to say it was one of our videos that kicked the whole thing off in the UK, the truth is that TikTok is a platform that is primarily built on creators. Not necessarily influencers in the typical sense, because unlike other platforms, the number of people following you isn’t the primary currency. Instead, the algorithm is designed to shine a spotlight on the most interesting and entertaining content, so it truly could come from anyone. Some regular folks thought it would be fun to post a TikTok of them going on a lockdown adventure to ‘big Tesco’ in search of these bright little balls of delicious ice cream.
And a perfect storm hit – this audience, particularly young women, were clearly experiencing lockdown fatigue and this provided a bit of light relief. When the only place you can go is a trip to ‘big Tesco’, the idea of going on a hunt for a must-have ice cream adds a bit of excitement to proceedings. And perhaps because the structure of these videos was so simple and easy to replicate, thousands of others joined in. We started to create content that reacted to what was happening. And people were loving it and still are – at the time of writing, #LittleMoon and #LittleMoonsMochi have a combined 320.8M impressions on the platform.
We’ve got big things planned
We know that our fans love the variety of mochi flavours – we have 12 ranging from Vegan Passionfruit & Mango to Honey Roasted Pistachio. We’ll be bringing out some new and exciting flavours in the Summer and we hope to launch our own e-commerce site when stock levels allow – we’d love people to be able to access our whole range whenever they like.