THE FLYING HORSE
Like many traditional businesses, Kwong On Cheong has had to adapt to the rising tide of progress in Singapore: ever-increasing land prices and cost of operations, and a shortage of manpower. For the 79-year-old soy sauce company, this meant moving to Malaysia in order to preserve the traditional ways of making soy sauce. "If you want to brew soy sauce the traditional way, you need space. At the volume that we were producing, we were forced to move to Johor Bahru in 2014, so that we would have enough land," says Benjamin Song, third generation owner of the company.
While relocating the factory to Singapore's immediate neighbour might mean lower operating costs on the surface, the move was fraught with challenges. Shares the 32-year-old Song, "we entered Malaysia without much knowledge of the place. I went in myself, sussed out the factory, laid out the floor plans, got the license. I basically did everything on my own as my dad—who was running the business up till the point when I entered—wanted me to head the move as he didn't want me to rely on him." With the move, Song had too much to worry about, including security, utilities, and even potential floods. Then, he had the details: whether the factory was suitable for food processing, paperwork, and getting familiar with the administrative procedures of the local government.
For Song, making soy sauce was always an eventuality, as he echoes a familiar sentiment: "I wanted to get experience in the outside world, so I studied economics and finance, and started working in a related field." Five years ago, he left a career in the finance industry to join the family business, which started with Song's grandfather in 1939.
Like both Nanyang Sauce and Kwong Woh Hing, Song’s sauces are not retailed in large supermarkets, and instead have relied on a steady stream of loyal regulars— both consumers and businesses—who purchase their sauces. He lets on that they “haven't done much marketing
Like both Nanyang
Sauce and Kwong Woh Hing, Song’s sauces are not retailed in large supermarkets, and instead have relied on a steady stream of loyal regulars...
or publicity because [they] want to let the brand grow organically", although they too, are beginning to move into online retail.
Kwong On Cheong’s most recent innovation is something called Light Soy Sauce Supreme, which they’ve begun retailing online on REDMART. Song admits, "With the soy sauce, there's only so much we can do as it's a basic household necessity. But this was made with reference to Japanese-style soy sauce. It suits Chinese cuisine, but I feel like it's one of the few, if not only, local soy sauce that can complement sushi because it doesn't have that lingering saltiness."
Checking on the soysauce brewing at Kwong On Cheong.
Kwong On Cheong www.kocc.com.sgKwong Woh Hing Sauce Factory www.kwh.com.sgNanyang Sauce www.nanyangsauce.com Soy sauce vats at the Kwong On Cheong factory in Johor Bahru.
Third generation soy sauce producer Benjamin Song.
Kwong On Cheong lightsoy sauce.