Chefs at Singapore’s top Chinese restaurants such as the Michelin-starred Summer Pavilion and Din Tai Fung prefer the nuanced and balanced flavours of its products. But the brand isn’t commonly found at supermarkets.
Alvin Choo, the fifth-generation owner of 130-year-old Kwong Cheong Thye, wants to change that. The company’s business is currently 80 percent B2B, and Choo wants the brand, which sells seasoning sauces, noodles, and dumpling skins in addition to its signature soya sauces, to become a staple in consumer kitchens, too.
While growing up, Choo and his siblings — younger brother Allan and elder sister Angie — frequented restaurants with their parents and worked at their Geylang Road retail outlet and Senoko factory during school holidays. Choo joined the business in 2016 straight out of National Service, relinquishing the opportunity to pursue a full-time degree.
“My parents were already 60 years old at the time. I didn’t want them to be stressed. “I would have graduated last year if I had taken a three- or four-year degree,” says the 28-year-old, who is married and has a 14-month-old daughter.
He plans to make the brand more accessible and well-known to a broader and younger audience by focusing on business development; Angie and Allan handle administration and operations, respectively. In June, a new five-storey expansion to its factory will be ready with a demo kitchen to display new products and share tips on how to use them, along with viewing galleries for the public to observe how their soya sauce is made. The brand is also working with a corporate chef to develop a fascinating array of fusion creations, including cookies and even sushi.
We are in 90 percent of hotels and restaurants in Singapore not because we are cheap, but because we have quality and consistency.Alvin Choo
Kwan Cheong Thye is currently available in 25 markets, including China, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia. Its dark sauce for chicken rice was so popular in China that it inspired imitations. Choo created a QR code in collaboration with a technology partner to authenticate the products and collect market data. In addition to boosting distributor confidence, the move also provided insight into customer demand.
To earn the trust of his colleagues, especially those who have been with the company since the beginning, Choo rolled up his sleeves from day one and eschewed a micro-management style for a consultative one. To understand his colleagues’ pain points, he would do deliveries himself. In addition to developing the brand’s own e-store, he also sold its products on Redmart and Amazon. Furthermore, a professional team outside the family was hired to improve operations and offer advice on human resource issues to move the business forward.
Besides creating more consumer-centric products, Choo, who enjoys cooking and often experiments with the company’s products, plans to launch pre-made sauce blends. He wants Kwong Cheong Thye to be the leading supplier of customised pastes to restaurants. At the heart of it all is the desire to deliver a quality product that is uniquely Singaporean.
Choo says, “We are in 90 percent of hotels and restaurants in Singapore not because we are cheap, but because we have quality and consistency. We want to treat local consumers to the same high-quality, delicious products.”
Photography: Mun Kong
Styling: Chia Wei Choong
Grooming: Vivien Ng | Arly