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Singapore’s Very Own Soy Sauce Makers Tell Tales Of Survival

The story behind one 70-year-old brand’s quest for quality and longevity.
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For most companies, the idea of scaling up and hitting the global stage is an opportunity too good to miss. But not for Simon Woo, second generation owner of Kwong Woh Hing Sauce Factory, a 70-year-old Singaporean soy sauce brand with a factory located in the industrial estate of Defu Lane.

“One Hong Kong-listed company came to our place and said he wanted to bring our soy sauce to China and sell it, so I said very good,” says Woo.

The investor then told him that he is looking to put his sauces on the shelves of hundreds supermarkets in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou – that’s when Woo declined the offer.

High quality soy sauce takes time, at least a year in fact, to ferment. His fear? Generating such volume might jeopardise quality, unthinkable for the business which even precedes Singapore’s independence.
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Simon’s son, Dickson Woo says these prerequisites are essential for the factory to continue and locating a good venue to move to is a matter of survival.

But after discussions with the Housing Development Board, Kwong Woh Hing managed to secure a relocation to their new location at Bedok Food City and will also be given the rooftop area for them to place their urns.

“It’s very simple, if you don’t give us such a place, it means that you want us to close down or you want us to give up a certain kind of (heritage),” explains Dickson, 28. “It’s make or break, so in the end we managed to convince them.”

Passion takes over
Dickson is no passionate young upstart new to the business. During his childhood years, he grew up “playing” in the factory and following his parents to roadshows and listening to his father educating consumers on their premium sauces.
Mixing the soy beans and flour by hand ensures each bean is evenly coated.
Mixing the soy beans and flour by hand ensures each bean is evenly coated.
“From young, all the holidays… I will climb inside (some of the large equipments) and scrub everything with soap. Other times we need to mix the beans inside the urn,” he recounts.

All that time spent with the beans have borne fruit. Today, Dickson is deeply passionate for the family business and has a part to play in the heritage and the legacy of the family.

He also wishes to bring new perspectives to the business, and one way is to spearhead initiatives to move the brand up the value chain. He has, for instance, launched a series of 10 “Signboard Dishes” ready-made pastes, stocking them at Naiise and NTUC which combines Kwong Woh Hing’s premium sauces, Simon’s cooking recipes and three years of research and development.

Ultimately, the product still returns to the core mission of the family: soy sauce.

Laser focus
Kwong Woh Hing premium soy sauces are currently not sold in major supermarkets although they are experimenting with stocking some of their products at COMO Marketplace in Dempsey Hill. Visitors from as far as Japan are known to drop by the factory to buy their sauces through the recommendations of their friends.

“They always ask me who is your audience – we sell directly to people’s homes. My customers, they are all housewives,” says Dickson. “The people who cook at home are the ones who demand the best quality because they are cooking for their family members.”
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