Valerie Cheng, Chief Creative Officer for Southeast Asia at Havas, has made a mark in the advertising industry with her achievements in integrating creative solutions for major brands. A well-recognized figure in the industry, Cheng was the first female chairperson in the history of the Creative Circle Awards Singapore, and was awarded as Singapore's first Digital Creative Director of the Year at the Advertising Hall of Fame in 2011 and 2012.
Now, she ventures on the business sector as she pursues a life passion — food. In an interview with adobo magazine, Cheng talks about Licktionary, her recently opened original artisanal ice cream parlor.
Can you tell us about Licktionary? What was the spark that made you start Licktionary?
Cooking has always been my other true love, besides advertising. I’ve been in the kitchen since I was five, and my Grandmother would guide me in whatever I wanted to make. Most of my best memories with her are in the kitchen making pineapple tarts, egg rolls and other Peranakan dishes. Even with my busy schedule, I’m always happy to do a cook up even if I have to be up by 3 AM to be at the market.
So, the thought of running a food-related business has always floated in and out of my mind for many years. Around two years ago, during my time at CCO at JWT, I felt a strong urge to try something new. I knew that setting up a full-service F&B outlet would be too much for a newbie like me, and like many unexplained blessings in life, ice cream came to mind. Once I tried making my own at home, I never looked back or ate commercial ice cream again. I felt that this was definitely an opportunity to put a better product on the market, one that’s more healthy with less preservatives and artificial flavors.
After much brainstorming with my husband, Farrokh Madon (Chief Creative Partner of JWT Singapore), Licktionary Ice Cream was born. You might call it my mid-life crisis! Instead of indulging in a new sports car (which I’ll never because I don’t like speed), I guess starting Licktionary is my version of chasing my dream. And thankfully, my husband is a great business partner and supporter because this would not have happened without him.
Once inside the Licktionary store, one can see their uniquely-named ice cream flavours.
Being advertising creatives in Singapore is a jump to spearheading a standalone ice cream parlor. Were there hurdles to making Licktionary happen?
At every step of the way. Coming up with the brand was the easiest part. Everything else was an uphill battle, and one very unfamiliar to us. Luckily, much of the planning was done during my time in Facebook, where work-life balance was amazing and they really encourage entrepreneurship. I had to get myself certified in gelato-making and many other food-related courses—that’s compulsory by the Singapore Government, but it was all new knowledge gained.
Finding the right place for the shop took a good six to nine months of searching. Even through this experience, we’ve learned so much about the real side of running a business. The ideal places in mind were constantly eliminated based on high rentals, lack of adequate power for our machines, or even lack of F&B permits. When people asked us how we found our location, I have to say it was serendipity. You know it’s right when everything fits like a glove, and you can’t rush these things. We could have made many bad decisions if we had not listened to our instincts.
Despite having all the recipes, the branding and suppliers all planned for the last two years, and even after finding what we felt was the right space, I was still ready to pull the plug. Truth was, I wasn’t sure if we could really run this and our full-time advertising jobs at the same time. It was crucial for us to find good and trustworthy staff, and human resourcing is truly a huge problem for F&B businesses in Singapore. We made quite a few bad hires in the beginning, but thankfully operations are pretty stable now so we can really focus on moving the business forward while juggling our day jobs. Once again, if not Farrokh’s commitment to help me see my passion through, I would not have pushed on.
In the course of setting up—and now sustaining Licktionary—we found a greater appreciation for what our clients have to go through. Creating campaigns and worrying about marketing is a small percentage of the headache they have to manage. We are constantly planning for new flavor innovations and other products to add to our menu. This is the only way to keep people curious and excited so they come back for more.
Valerie Cheng Madon with her husband Farrokh Madon
The concept of creating flavors inspired by feelings, like Hope, Peace and Love—how did you come up with that? Are these flavors innovations in themselves? Which ones are best sellers? Why do you think those flavours sit well? And finally, please tell us the stories behind your flavors.
In the beginning, we spent most of our time figuring what our point-of-difference would be. Between the two of us, we have 40 years of branding and advertising experience, so we knew how important this would be for the success of our product.
The concept of interpreting feelings into ice cream flavors really came from the observation of ice cream consumption behavior. People seek ice cream when they need a pick-me-up, when they’re feeling down or perhaps they’re happy and want to indulge in a little more joy. So if ice cream is an emotional food, we thought we could have some fun making every scoop a different kind of emotion. This led to the many experiments I had at home concocting the flavors, which is always the greatest joy for me.
I would imagine every feeling with my taste buds and put ingredients together that I felt would translate that feeling into taste. Unlike general cooking, combining ingredients to form taste is not the difficult part. Getting the creamy consistency for every new flavor with new ingredients can be a challenge.
The best seller is Lust. It would be funny to say most people want to feel that way, but I believe it’s the taste of dark chocolate and brandied cherries that’s bringing people back for this. Guess you could say I’ve succeeded in getting people to lust for more of this.
Kampung is the other popular flavor. With a village surrounded by coconut and palm trees, this recipe is made of coconut milk cooked with pandan and gulamelaka. Some would say it tastes like chendol on a cone. Luck is also an interesting one which some have ordered to usher in Chinese New Year. Growing up Chinese, pineapple is a symbol of luck, so I was inspired to turn pineapple tarts into an ice cream form. One of the most important flavors is Love, because it’s the first conceptual flavor that started this journey for us. Just as we expect love to be pure and comforting, it is made of pure vanilla with a little surprise. It’s simple white look is deceiving because every lick fills you with an essence of rose hidden in its whiteness.
Some of the other really interesting flavors are those we’ve customized for brands or gifts, like the Natural, a flavor created for a Johnson & Johnson product launch, Radiance & Revive sorbets made with Brand’s Birds Nest, and a black & green ice cream with edible galaxy glitter for Star Wars fans.
And finally, just a little cherry on top of the sundae, what is your favorite ice cream flavor, both in concept and taste?
I have two, depending on my mood. Mojo is a coffee-based ice cream mixed with brandied caramel. I have that when I feel like indulging, and we’ve gotten great reviews for this flavor from people who love their coffee. When I need something lighter, I go for Summer. It’s strawberry ice cream with a dash of lemon that makes it feel less ice cream and more like yoghurt.
Licktionary is located at 2 Science Park Dr, #01-33, Singapore. For inquiries, they may be contacted through phone at +65 6252 1822, and through their Facebook page.
This article was published in the adobo magazine Trends 2018 issue.