One of the more interesting exhibits at the expo was that of Sepakam Sombai, an independent business fusing a deep-rooted love of rice wine with some modern ingenuity and Cambodia’s most famous tastes to create a truly unique range of beverages, both alcoholic and not.
For three years, the Siem Reap-based company has been pushing an imaginative range of unique Sombai-infused Cambodian liqueurs, and six months ago it introduced a non-alcoholic range of products that exploits some of Cambodia’s favourite tastes. As with so many products at the expo, the marketeers at Sombai are looking beyond the tourist and expat crowds and toward the increasingly lucrative local market.
Known as the Joe’s Cuisine range, the non-alcoholic beverages include the flavours of organic Kampot pepper; a Cambodian pepper mix; fleur de sal (flower of salt); and aromatised sea salt with pink peppercorn, chili, turmeric and amok bases. All the products come in attractive hand-painted bottles which enhance sale potential, particularly to tourists.
Meanwhile, the Sombai-infused Cambodian Liqueur drinks comes in three different sizes and compriseseight flavours, with coconut-pineapple – a sort of funky piña colada – the most popular. Other flavours include galangal-tamarind, ginger-red chili, and anise-coffee.
A spin-off benefit of the liqueurs is that the showroom, bar and infusion production facility have become a Siem Reap tourist attraction, with guests paying for guided tours and samplings. This attraction caught the attention of the New York Times in July, which ran an upbeat report on the innovative creation.
Owned and operated by Mauritius-French expats Lionel Maitrepierre and Joelle Jean Louis, Sombai acknowledges the proven tourism potential of the company’s products but also seeks to build a Cambodian clientele, especially for the infused liqueurs, according to Maitrepierre.
“Our main market base for the moment is with tourists, simply because we are in Siem Reap and Siem Reap is all about tourism,” he tells MANAGEMENT INSIDER. “We see excellent reaction from Cambodians when they have the opportunity to try Sombai Liqueurs, as the sweet taste pleases the Khmer palate. Our products are accessible to middle and high class Cambodian customers, but for the moment they are still too focused on international brands. I hope that sooner or later they will be more patriotic and see that they can find in their own country some alcoholic beverages that they can proudly enjoy.”
“ OUR PRODUCTS ARE ACCESSIBLE TO MIDDLE AND HIGH CLASS CAMBODIAN CUSTOMERS, BUT FOR THE MOMENT THEY ARE STILL TOO FOCUSED ON INTERNATIONAL BRANDS. ”
– Lionel Maitrepierre, Owner, Sepakam Sombai
Maitrepierre added that while he has plenty of overseas enquiries about stocking the Sombai range, purchases are still mostly limited to retail tourist sales in Siem Reap. “We have a lot of bottles overseas, but that’s simply because tourists took them back to their homeland,” he said. “In practice, we sell 95% in Siem Reap so far, with maybe five per cent in Phnom Penh and Battambang.”
He’s hoping that contacts he made during F&B expo will broaden Sombai’s sales base internationally, but more important, he said, was getting a foothold in Phnom Penh. “It was a brilliant idea to have this expo in Siem Reap. We made excellent contacts with potential partners in Phnom Penh, with people that we cannot see so often or as easily as we have been more focused on Siem Reap. It is too early to measure how large the benefit is. Only time will tell.”