Khong Guan Biscuit Company



Khong Guan Biscuit Company is a local biscuit manufacturer that has grown into a multinational group of companies with diversified interests including property, food product distribution and commodities trading. Founded in 1947 by Chew Choo Keng, Khong Guan exports its products to more than 40 countries, and manufactures biscuits and confectionery for supermarket house brands.1

Background
Chew arrived in Singapore in 1937 at the age of 21. He had come from Tong’an district in Xiamen, Fujian province, China. In Singapore, Chew found a job at a biscuit factory run by Tan Kah Kee, and was later promoted to assistant supervisor.2 Chew revealed that his name was originally Chew Zhu Keng (周朱敬) and it was Tan who renamed him Chew Choo Keng (周子敬).3 During a period of labour unrest at the biscuit factory, Chew quit his job because he was torn between standing by his fellow workers and thus being looked upon as an ungrateful person by his employer, and supporting his employer which would have incurred the wrath of the other workers.4

Chew subsequently moved to Ipoh in Perak, Malaya, where he worked briefly as a cashier in the office of Tan’s rubber company there before setting up Khong Leng Biscuit Factory with a friend.5 However, the Japanese invasion ended that venture. Chew then left for Teluk Anson (today’s Teluk Intan), also in Perak, and started a soap-making business with some friends. He made a fortune with this business and expanded to manufacturing coconut oil, salt, biscuits and trading in commodities.6 After the war, Chew sold his businesses in Teluk Anson and returned to Singapore.7

Back in Singapore, with a capital of $250,000, Chew set up the Khong Guan Biscuit Factory in 1947. At the 50,000-square-foot factory at Paya Lebar employing up to 300 workers, biscuits were initially made manually before Chew experimented with using bicycle chains to convey plates of biscuits to the ovens.8 He was heavily involved in daily operations at the factory, from making and marketing the biscuits to designing the company logo.9 One of Chew’s younger brothers, Chew Choo Han, became the business manager, executing his brother’s strategic decisions.10

Expansion
By 1959, Khong Guan owned two factories in Singapore as well as plants in Butterworth, Seremban and Kota Bharu in Malaya.11 The Singapore factories produced 10,000 tins of biscuits daily and had around 200 employees, while the Malayan factories produced 40,000 tins daily and employed 1,000 workers. About 70 percent of Khong Guan’s products were sold in Singapore and Malaya, while the rest were exported to international markets such as Indonesia, Hong Kong, Africa and the Middle East.12

In 1960, Khong Guan Flour Milling Private Limited was incorporated with an authorised capital of $5 million, and granted pioneer industrial status by the Singapore government the following year. The company then opened a flour mill in Tanjong Rhu in 1964 to supply to the Khong Guan biscuit factories and other companies. The mill initially had a daily production capacity of 140 tons of flour.13 In 1969, the company was listed on the Stock Exchange of Malaysia and Singapore.14

By 1970, Khong Guan’s Singapore factory, with 420 employees, was producing 15 tons of assorted biscuits and confectionery daily, and had plans to increase production to 75 tons.15 In 1972, Khong Guan Holdings Malaysia was listed on the stock exchange as a holding company and investment vehicle. By this time, Khong Guan had biscuit factories in Malaysia – in Seremban, Butterworth, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu – and the funds were partly used to expand the factory operations of its subsidiary, Khong Guan Biscuit Factory (Borneo), in Kota Kinabalu.16

Khong Guan signed an agreement with Australian biscuit manufacturer Arnotts in 1974, allowing Khong Guan access to Arnotts’ “formulae, recipes, production methods, techniques, processes and know-how” to produce and sell Arnotts products in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. At this point, Khong Guan had 10 factories with over 3,000 employees.17

In the early 1980s, through its Hong Kong investment vehicle, Khong Guan Overseas Investment (HK), Khong Guan ventured into biscuit manufacturing in Guangdong, China.18 By 1981, the Khong Guan group had more than 60 subsidiaries and associate companies in Asia, with the three core companies being Khong Guan Flour Milling, Khong Guan Holdings and United Malayan Flour Mills.19

In 1989, citing unprofitable operating results since 1983 and a competitive flour milling industry, Khong Guan Flour Milling announced that it would move its milling operations to Malaysia and China and redevelop the Tanjong Rhu mill into a residential property project.20 Khong Guan later announced that it would join other investors to develop a S$60-million condominium project on the Tanjong Rhu site.21

During the 1990s, Khong Guan continued to expand in China. By the middle of the decade, it had biscuit factories in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Tianjin, Zhengzhou and Chengdu through its subsidiary, Far East Biscuit Factory. In 1993, Khong Guan was named the second most popular biscuit brand in China by Zhong Guo Ming Pai, a consumer brand publication.22 Meanwhile, the Chews’ controlling share of Khong Guan Holdings Malaysia was sold to Malaysian businessman Lim Geok Chan in 1993.23 The Malaysian group then divested its biscuit-making operations back to Khong Guan and ended up becoming Marco Holdings as part of Robert Tan’s Marco group.24

In July 2001, Chew passed away at the age of 86.25 At the time of his death, the biscuit factory that he founded had become a multinational concern with factories and associated companies in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China and the United States.26 His brother Choo Han retired six years later in January 2007 and passed away in November that same year.27



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Superbrands. (2002). Superbrands: An insight into more than 100 of Singapore’s strongest brands. Singapore: Superbrands (HK), p. 108. (Call no.: RSING q658.827 SUP)
2. Lim, C. H. (Interviewer). (1980, October 5). Oral history interview with Chew Choo Keng [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000045/24/8, p. 73]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Lim, C. H. (Interviewer). (1980, September 28). Oral history interview with Chew Choo Keng [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000045/24/7, pp. 71–72]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

4. Lim, C. H. (Interviewer). (1980, October 26). Oral history interview with Chew Choo Keng [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000045/24/10, pp. 91–92]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

5. Lim, C. H. (Interviewer). (1980, October 26). Oral history interview with Chew Choo Keng [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000045/24/10, pp. 93–95]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

6. Pioneers of Singapore: Chew Choo Keng (1916–). (1986, May 18). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, C. H. (Interviewer). (1980, October 26). Oral history interview with Chew Choo Keng [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000045/24/12, pp. 114–116]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

7. Pioneers of Singapore: Chew Choo Keng (1916–). (1986, May 18). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Lim, C. H. (Interviewer). (1980, November 2). Oral history interview with Chew Choo Keng [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000045/24/13, pp. 127–128, 129–130]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
9. Pioneers of Singapore: Chew Choo Keng (1916–). (1986, May 18). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Chan, K. B., & Chiang, C. (1994). Stepping out: The making of Chinese entrepreneurs. Singapore: Simon and Schuster (Asia), pp. 105–106. (Call no.: RSING 338.04089951 CHA)
11. Expansion scheme by biscuit factory to cost $100,000. (1959, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, K. B., & Chiang, C. (1994). Stepping out: The making of Chinese entrepreneurs. Singapore: Simon and Schuster (Asia), p. 112. (Call no.: RSING 338.04089951 CHA)
12. Expansion scheme by biscuit factory to cost $100,000. (1959, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. $3m. mill is first phase of company’s project. (1964, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Khong Guan Flour Milling Limited. (1969, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 6; Khong Guan. (1970, May 11). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. $3 mil project to meet export demands. (1970, September 18). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved NewspaperSG.
16. Ng, B. (1972, October 31). Another market newcomerThe Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Biscuit factory to double its output. (1974, December 20). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Khong Guan ventures into China. (1981, June 18). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Jarhom, N. (1981, June 25). Strong profits at Khong GuanThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Ng, M. (1989, April 20). Khong Guan to redevelop factory into condo project. The Business Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Wong, S. (1992, October 10). Condo on former flour mill site set to yield $17.8m profit. The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tay, A. (1995, May 15). Chew biscuit empire opens plants inlandThe Business Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Balan, A. (1995, May 20). Malaysian biscuit maker may be swallowed up. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Bright future ahead for Khong Guan through its new outfit. (2001, September 25). Bernama. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
25. Chan, K. M. (2001, July 11). S’pore’s biscuit king diesThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Teo, P. L. (2001, July 15). The Cookie MasterThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. New deputy chairman and MD at Khong Guan Flour. (2007, January 15). The Straits Times, p. 42; Chew Choo Han. (2007, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 74. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Organisations>>Companies
Trade and industry
Commerce and Industry>>Industries
Biscuit industry--Singapore
Business enterprises
Corporations--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Manufacturing industries>>Food, beverages and tobacco