When some 91 micro, small and medium enterprises left Brunei to exhibit their products and services at the 14th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) in Nanning, China, they weren’t sure what to expect. For majority, it was their first time participating in an international exhibition.

“On the first day of the exhibition most of the Chinese visitors to our booth were skeptical about our perfume. We had a lot of people asking why our prices are high,” Hj Md Raduan Hj Lamudin, co-founder of Golden Aswad Aroma Enterprise, said.

Visitors stopping to have a look at the niche perfumes offered by Golden Aswad Aroma Enterprise. Photo: Courtesy of Golden Aswad Aroma

Many were surprised that his perfumes contain agar wood (gaharu) oil from the rainforests of Brunei. This definitely piqued interest and despite being a niche perfume that was new to consumers in Nanning, the company slowly saw their products being accepted.

“By the end of the five-day expo, we sold 30 per cent of our stock, which is good considering it is a luxury item… We’ve never joined an international exhibition before so we wanted to test the China market,” the 45-year-old told The Scoop.

To his surprise, he found many Chinese businesses expressing interest. “They really want to work together, and we are ready to cater to the China market,” he said, adding that they have plans to expand production capacity.

Also delighted at the prospect of breaking into the China Market was manager of Mom’s Baking, Farah Aqilah Shamad.

“When we arrived back in Brunei, there was already a few emails expressing interest in our cookies,” the young entrepreneur said. Mom’s Baking sold out all their pineapple tarts during the CAEXPO.

However, it hasn’t been easy to convince Chinese buyers to accept their prices. It is hard to be competitive in China because price of packaging is steep in Brunei, she said.

Photo: Courtesy of Farah Aqilah

“Initially, we received complaints from Chinese customers that our pineapple tarts were pricey. But eventually they accepted why we had to price it like that. We offered small discounts, but we cannot afford to drop our prices.”

Farah said they decided to join the exhibition in Nanning when they heard about it on the news — it was a last minute application which paid off.

“We will take it slowly, I’m only just getting back to the emails to follow up on business interest. I can see potential in them and don’t mind to increase production if everything works out.”

Rizqussalam, one of the top sellers at the Brunei Pavilion during the 14th CAEXPO, also generated a lot of interest from Chinese buyers.

The company, whose main product is sambal tahai, sold over 1,200 packs. According to Hj Muhd Muinuddin Hj Saidin, who helps his sister run the business, they were blown away by the overwhelming response.

“We were approached by distributors during the expo, and they have followed up via email. So now, we’re just getting back to them,” the 29-year-old said.

Hj Muhd Muinuddin (L) poses for a picture with a customer at the 14th CAEXPO in Nanning. Photo: Courtesy of Rizqussalam

One of the customers who approached them during the Nanning expo was a chef who wanted to introduce Rizqussalam’s sambal tahai to his restaurant.

“I think across the board, a lot of the Chinese consumers found Bruneian products to be expensive, so we had a lot of explaining and convincing to do. It’s not feasible to drop our prices too low.”

The first three days, Hj Muhd Muinuddin said not many people were interested because they were considered too expensive for the type of product they sold.

To lure in buyers, they had no choice but to drop their pricing a little and eventually, they sold out.

Excited at the prospect of doing business with China, Hj Muhd Muinuddin disclosed that depending on the deal, they are already looking at venues to open up a factory in order to boost production

“At the moment, we’re still trying to get back to potential buyers. Hopefully everything works out.”