Interview with Mr. Lee’s Noodles * Product Samples from Mr. Lee’s Noodles * Mr. Lee’s Noodles Warrior Fighting Shrimp * Mr. Lee’s Noodles Hong Kong Street Beef * Mr. Lee’s Noodles Dragon Fire Mushroom * Mr. Lee’s Noodles Tai Chi Chicken * Mr. Lee’s Noodles Shaolin Monk Vegetables * Mr. Lee’s Noodles Penang Chicken Curry Laksa
I was contacted by Kasia Bigda, Head of Marketing and Communications over at Mr. Lee’s Noodles a few months ago. They sounded like interesting products and I of course was keen on giving them a try. Mr. Lee’s Noodles seems to be going the way of many food products these days – convenience with healthiness in mind. I conducted this interview with the company’s founder, Dr. Damien Lee – here’s a little bio about him:
Bio: Damien Lee, MD and Founder of Mr Lee’s Noodles, an ex-Australian Special Forces, a former City headhunter, a single dad of two and stage 4 cancer survivor. In remission, having lost his latest start-up but cleaned up his diet to help beat cancer, he realised he loved noodles but hated all the nasty chemicals in them. So he created his own healthy, gluten-free pot noodle, which he’ll soon start selling on university campuses through high-tech Noodle Kiosks that look like giant smartphones (and also online). With our appetite for Asian streetfood on the rise and with his high-tech approach to sales, he’s definitely on trend.
THE RAMEN RATER> Thank you for agreeing to this interview! To start, can you tell my readers about the history of Mr Lee’s?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> The history of Mr Lee’s… Well we were founded in June 2015 incorporated here in the United Kingdom. The birth of the company in a sense was probably a little earlier than that, in fact I started really conceptualising the company back in April 2015 on the beach in Greece with the family. I was kind of contemplating what I was going to be doing with my life post recovery from my cancer treatment. I’d lost my previous start-up company while I spent a year recovering and going through my treatment, and going to Greece was my first break away post recovery to contemplate what do I do now. I’ve never been a part of the retail industry, so I wanted my noodles to not only be unique in flavour but also delivered in a unique way, and that’s when I also started thinking about our “noodle kiosk” vending machines.
So that’s where the business started and from there spent many months working on the business plan to finally beginning in June 2015.
TRR> What was the first product you made?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> At the beginning we developed a number of soup flavours that we were experimenting with which is when I first found Andy Chu, our Macau born Executive Chef. We spent a lot of time in his kitchen trying out different soups from Penang Chicken Curry Laksa to Tai Chi Chicken and numerous, exciting flavours. So it was really our soups! The first flavour we discovered was Hong Kong Street Beef which is still one of my favourites today.
TRR> Your company is located in England. Can you tell us a little bit about your country?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> Well our home country England is a very multicultural society with a population of about 65 million people. There are many different nations making up the demographic from Asia to the Middle East, from North America, Europeans and so on. It’s a progressive society so as you know, it has a good economy. Obviously now the UK has voted to leave the European Union, ‘Brexit’ they’re calling it, so by 2017 the UK will no longer be a part of it – which is an interesting one! I think there’s many things still to be seen but like anything we will get through that.
The climate here isn’t what I’d call barmy, but a typical summer day is about 23-25 Celsius, which I know sounds warm…But it’s rainy! I’m from Australia so to me it’s bit too cold. Thankfully we are based in Bournemouth which is a fantastic coastal town with a fantastic beach, so we can really make the most of the little Summer we have.
TRR> Can you tell us about the variety of noodles you make?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> Yes! Today we have six launch flavours which all use gluten-free rice noodles. We have Dragon Fire Mushroom, Shaolin Monk Vegetables, Warrior Fighting Shrimp, Hong Kong Street Beef, Penang Chicken Curry Laksa and Tai Chi Chicken. Each of our noodle cups are named in a way that shows inspiration from authentic, oriental flavours.
Our noodles are all natural, as we don’t use any nasties or additives, preservatives or colours, absolutely nothing artificial goes into them – and one of our key features are freeze-dried ingredients, and lots of it. We tend to use anything up to 8g of freeze-dried ingredients in each of our flavours, and no other brand in the cup noodle range use such a high quality and quantity of vegetables or meats in their products.
TRR> How many noodle products do you produce each year?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> It’s hard to say but I hope in the 10’s of millions! But that’s something we’ll aim for in the future. I’m hoping that in the first year post launch that we will be on target from 500 to a million soups, but beyond that I would see that curve going remarkably higher.
TRR> How does your noodle making process differ from other instant noodle manufacturers?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> It differs firstly in the quality of the ingredients. We use very high quality ingredients from seasonings to freeze-dried vegetables, meat and a high end rice noodle made specifically for us. We are also one of the lowest cup noodles in sugar, salt, calories, fats (saturated) and so on but we also differ on a packing process in the way we mill our products.
Most, in fact all the other soup brands I know that already have the powders pre opened in the cup have their dehydrated ingredients all mixed in a pre-mix, before being poured into the cups along the production line. We don’t do that. We uniquely and precisely measure out the seasoning and the exact weight of each freeze-dried ingredients so we know exactly the amount going into each soup rather than a bulk powder. In other words, the freeze-dried may differ in quantity because you may get less mushroom or more broccoli for example. By measuring each ingredient we know that every soup will have the whole quality experience we expect to give them. It’s a more expensive process for us to pack the product but ultimately the whole user experience is more unique, precise and higher in quality.
TRR> Are rice noodles the only products you make?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> At the present our brand uses exclusively rice noodles, but we will be developing another four products which will have a variety of wheat and egg noodles. We are also developing seven fantastic super-food boosts and three taste enhancing condiments that you can mix into our soups from our vending machines. We have tamari soy sauce, sesame oils, chilly oils – a whole bunch of wonderful high quality products that you will be able to buy and personalise!
TRR> A lot of people are concerned with their sodium intake. How would you recommend people enjoy your product as part of a healthy meal?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> Our product is very low in salt and we try not to add additional salts aside from the natural salts in our noodles. We tend to use seaweed vs sodium which is obviously a natural salt not a processed one, and using sea salts which are more expensive but are much better for the buyer. We work on having as little salt as possible in each of our soups. If you tend to look at our sodium values in our nutritional guides you will see our soups compared to many others is one of the lowest you’ll find.
TRR> Are you involved in your local community or participate in charities?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> Absolutely! Our brand ethos and values are all about giving back to the community, we are not a brand that takes, we need to give back. We are working on three pillars that we believe in called ‘HEY’ – health, education and youth. So we will be looking to identify programs within these sectors that we as an organisation can help contribute towards or maybe develop programs with. For example, we work with the Bournemouth Hospital Leukemia Foundation and with local University students, and we continue to identify other charities we can engage with and give back to the community in our own little way.
TRR> Are there any new products coming soon?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> For sure, as I mentioned previously we are in the process of developing a protein boost range. We are also developing four more soup flavours including a vegan option to enhance our current range of six flavours, so I plan by the New Year to have a ten soup line-up.
TRR> In what countries are your products popular? Do people enjoy them differently in different places?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> Well because we are a new brand it is a little early to say, I hope our home country the UK will be very, very popular if not the number 1! We’ve already sent our first 30,000 cups to Denmark, Scandinavia, where we are going into four hotel chains out there so I think that will be a very big market for us. We plan to be going into the US in the New Year as well, so it’s hard to say but I hope we are going to be a global brand very soon!
TRR> When you make noodles for yourself, what do you like to add to make them extra special?
MR. LEE’S NOODLES> Oh for me I love spicy! I just love chillies and hot food with chicken and really nice fresh, crunchy vegetables. I’ll really mix it up and try lots of things because I like to experiment with fresh produce. Also different types of noodles, but the key is the sauces to really get those flavours and spices and herbs. That’s the art of noodles.
THE RAMEN RATER> Thank you very much for this opportunity to learn about Mr Lee’s and your products!
I want to thank Kasia and Damien for making this Meet The Manufacturer happen! Let’s tuck in and give these new products a try, shall we?