Old Chang Kee



Old Chang Kee is a food retail chain best known for its Hainanese-style curry puffs, which were first sold in 1956. The business was bought over and revamped in 1986, and has since expanded to a chain of over 70 outlets in Singapore. The outlets are located at shopping malls, petrol stations and other high human traffic areas. Its menu includes mostly takeaway deep-fried snacks, as well as quick dine-in meals at selected cafes. The chain sells more than 40,000 curry puffs daily. Listed on the Singapore Exchange, Old Chang Kee also has a presence in Malaysia, Indonesia and China. 

Origins
Chang Chuan Boon, a Hainanese immigrant, first set up a stall at Koek Road in 1956 selling curry puffs.1 He then moved his stall to Albert Street, which was renowned for its street hawkers until they were moved in 1981 as part of the Environment Ministry’s plan to resettle roadside hawkers by 1984.2 Around 1973, Chang opened a second stall at a coffee shop on Mackenzie Road, near Rex Cinema, where his curry puffs became known as the “Old Chang Kee” or “Rex” curry puffs.3 Made of fried chicken, curried potatoes and a slice of hard-boiled egg encased within a buttered and fried pastry, each curry puff cost 35 cents in 1981.4

In 1986, Chang retired from the business to return to China.5 Han Keen Juan, who had met Chang at the Hainanese Association, pooled together S$70,000 from a small group of investors, and bought the curry puff stall at Mackenzie Road from Chang.6 In a 1994 interview, Han described Chang as a distant relative, an “uncle”.7

Han decided that the business needed to be revamped. He engaged an advertising agency, which designed a new logo and came up with the tagline “Old Chang Kee – it’s a better puff”.8 The decision to work with an advertising agency, however, prompted four shareholders to pull out, leaving Han and his cousin, Bugs Tan, behind.9 Han’s nephew William Lim then invested S$5,000 in the business, and much later became the company’s chief executive officer.10

A former salesman and marketing manager, Han faced a number of difficulties at the beginning, including a rental hike from S$600 to S$3,000 per month for the stall at Mackenzie Road.11 Sales of around 700 puffs daily at 40 cents each also did not bring in much revenue for expansion.12 Han thus adopted a process of gradual expansion and opened outlets at Shenton Way and Serangoon Gardens.13 Han and Tan also standardised the recipe and processes for preparing and cooking the puffs, and travelled to India and Sri Lanka to learn about spices.14

Expansion and overseas franchises
By 1991, Old Chang Kee had 12 outlets around Singapore and its sales turnover had surged from S$700,000 in 1987 to S$1.6 million in 1991.15 A factory at Ubi Avenue utilised mechanised dough mixers and potato peelers, producing more than 10,000 curry puffs each day.16 Some outlets started selling fried popiah (spring rolls), and a further product line expansion was planned.17 Han won the Small Scale Entrepreneur Award from the Rotary Club and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in 1992.18

In 1993, Old Chang Kee’s franchise outlets were opened in Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Japan, featuring the slogan “A taste of Singapore”.19 A factory in South Africa and distribution to taverns and supermarkets there followed in 1994.20 Expansion abroad was rapid. By the end of 1994, sales in Indonesia and Malaysia both surpassed S$1 million.21 By 1997, Old Chang Kee was in a total of eight countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, South Africa, China, Japan, India and New Zealand.22 

Business at the overseas franchises eventually declined. With mounting complaints about the quality and consistency of the puffs, the franchise outlets became unprofitable.23 In 2002, Han decided to terminate all 24 overseas franchises at a loss of about S$50,000.24 In contrast, the Old Chang Kee brand remained strong in Singapore, and the company racked up S$14 million in sales in 2002.25

Diversification and re-expansion overseas
The aforementioned Lim joined Old Chang Kee in 1995 after attaining a degree, and rose to become the company’s managing director in 2003.26 Old Chang Kee had been focussing on opening retail outlets at Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations, many of which were underground, but Lim expanded the number of outlets beyond MRT stations, opening new ones at street level, doubling them to almost 40 by 2005.27 In 2004, the company’s annual turnover reached S$20 million.28

In 2005, Old Chang Kee obtained its halal certification.29 In the same year, it re-entered overseas markets with stricter controls for foreign franchises. Three factories were opened in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines to maintain the quality of curry puffs supplied to retail outlets in these countries.30 By 2008, there were 60 outlets in Singapore; and 11 overseas ones in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and China.31 That year, Old Chang Kee was also listed on the Singapore Exchange’s Catalist board with an initial public offering (IPO) of 25 million new shares at 20 cents each. The IPO proceeds of around S$5 million were earmarked to fund expansion in Australia and China, increase and refurbish outlets in Singapore, and for strategic alliances and tie-ups.32



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Sim, G. (2005, April 4). Once bitten, but back for 2nd bite. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Tan, S. L. (1981, January 28). Albert Street to lose its flavour next month. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Neo, L. & Jump, M. (1980, July 12). Curry puffs from old man Chang in Albert Street. The Straits Times, p. 7; Chan, M. (1982, December 26). Stroll down Kali Pup lane. The Straits Times, p. 16; Oon, V. (1981, April 12). Where Muslims can eat Chinese style cooking food. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Oon, V. (1981, April 12). Where Muslims can eat Chinese style cooking food. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Seah, R. (2005, January 10). New face at Old Chang Kee. Today, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Mak, M. S. (2008, May 5). Huff ‘n’ puff. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Taste of success. (2004, December). I.E. Journal, 17, pp. 10–17. (Call no.: RSING 380.1095957 IEJ)
7. 黄建发 [Huang, J. F.]. (1994, July 18). 老曾记咖喱卜进军中国南非 [Old Chang Kee curry puff ventures into China and South Africa]. 联合晚报 [Lianhe Wanbao], p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Selling curry puffs overseas. (1991, December 10). The New Paper, p. 11; Mak, M. S. (2008, May 5). Huff ‘n’ puff. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Mak, M. S. (2008, May 5). Huff ‘n’ puff. The Straits Times, p. 48; Old Chang Kee’s recipe for success. (1991, December 9). The Business Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tan, L. (2008, September 14). Curry puff boss has small appetite for risk. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Mak, M. S. (2008, May 5). Huff ‘n’ puff. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Seah, R. (2005, January 10). New face at Old Chang Kee. Today, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Taste of success. (2004, December). I.E. Journal, 17, pp. 10–17. (Call no.: RSING 380.1095957 IEJ); Ng, I. (1992, June 23). Curry on. The New Paper, pp. 18–19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Old Chang Kee’s recipe for success. (1991, December 9). The Business Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Selling curry puffs overseas. (1991, December 10). The New Paper, p. 11; This curry puff’s going places. (1992, June 18). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Old Chang Kee’s recipe for success. (1991, December 9). The Business Times, p. 11; Ng, I. (1992, June 23). Curry on. The New Paper, pp. 18–19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Old Chang Kee’s recipe for success. (1991, December 9). The Business Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Chang, H. (1992, June 18). Two winners raring to go abroad. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Chang, H. (1993, May 31). Old Chang Kee curry puffs go regional. The Business Times, p. 2; Williams, A. (1993, September 25). Japanese queue for Old Chang Kee curry puffs in Japan. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Low, M. (1994, December 12). S’pore’s Old Chang Kee selling curry puffs in South Africa. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Williams, A. (1993, September 25). Japanese queue for Old Chang Kee curry puffs in Japan. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Lee, J. (1997, September 17). Going global the Singapore way. The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Cheong, S-W. (2003, May 11). Jobless get preference at this curry puff chain. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Mak, M. S. (2008, May 5). Huff ‘n’ puff. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Chow, H. (2003, December 4). Want to make money? Work hard, with passion. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Tan, L. (2008, September 14). Curry puff boss has small appetite for risk. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Seah, R. (2005, January 10). New face at Old Chang Kee. Today, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Sim, G. (2005, April 4). Once bitten, but back for 2nd bite. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Lim, C. (2005, May 12). Makes $ense to go halal. The New Paper, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Sim, G. (2005, April 4). Once bitten, but back for 2nd bite. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Old Chang Kee to open 13 new stores this year to tap tourism. (2008, March 6). The Business Times, p. 6; Mak, M. S. (2008, May 5). Huff ‘n’ puff. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Old Chang Kee offers bite of IPO at 20¢ apiece. (2008, January 5). The Straits Times, p. 77. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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
Corporations--Singapore
Organisations>>Companies
Cookery>>International and regional cooking>>Southeast Asian
Snack food industry--Singapore
Cookery, Singaporean
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Manufacturing industries>>Food, beverages and tobacco
Ethnic Communities>>Food
Business enterprises
Ethnic foods