Bengawan Solo



Bengawan Solo is one of Singapore’s most successful bakery chains, having built its reputation on the quality of its popular nonya (Peranakan)-style cakes and pastries.1 Founded by Anastasia Tjendri-Liew in 1979, the company has grown from a single shop to a chain of over 40 outlets.2

Background
In 1970, Indonesia-Chinese Tjendri-Liew moved from Palembang, Indonesia, to Singapore. She turned her keen interest in baking and cooking into a home business two years later by producing butter and chiffon cakes from the kitchen of her flat in Marine Parade. Tjendri-Liew’s products proved to be so popular that she eventually started supplying them to shops.3

However, she did not have a food-manufacturing licence, and was told by government officials to shut down the home operation in 1979.4 The demand for her products continued nonetheless, and a few months later, Tjendri-Liew opened a shop at Marine Terrace.5 As the previous tenants had not done well, she managed to obtain a low rent of S$1,200, and named the shop Bengawan Solo after an Indonesian folk song.6 Her cakes and traditional Southeast Asian snacks (referred to as kueh in Malay) remained popular, with demand increasing significantly after a positive newspaper review.7

Expansion
Customers urged Tjendri-Liew to set up a second shop in a more central location, and a second outlet at the Centrepoint shopping mall on Orchard Road opened in 1983.8 By 1987, the company had five outlets and required a central kitchen, which was opened on a 9,500-square-foot plot on Harvey Road. Bengawan Solo’s utilisation of a central kitchen was a first for Singapore’s confectionery industry, and the move drew much media attention, as well as paved the way for other bakeries to do likewise.9

Having grown to 25 outlets by 1997, Bengawan Solo shifted central kitchen operations to a larger, S$6-million factory in Woodlands.10 A second factory in Woodlands was added in 2009 at a cost of S$5.2 million to double the company’s production capacity.11

As Bengawan Solo’s production increased, its business also continued to thrive. In 2000, the company’s turnover was close to S$30 million.12 By 2002, this figure had grown to S$36 million. The bakery had also been registering healthy profits over the past decade, with profits growing from about S$6.2 million in 2002 to S$12.3 million in 2013, allowing the company to clinch that year’s Singapore SME 1000 Net Profit Excellence Award.13

Bengawan Solo’s rise was reflected by its entry into the Enterprise 50 list of Singapore’s top privately held companies.14 In 1998, the Association of Small and Medium  Enterprises named Tjendri-Liew the first recipient of the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award.15 According to Tjendri-Liew, over the years Bengawan Solo has attracted offers to buy out the business, but she has declined all bids as Bengawan Solo was her “baby”.16

Her husband, Johnson Liew, joined Bengawan Solo as the company’s accounts director in the early stages of its development.17 After 2000, their son Henry also joined the company. His vision for the company included expanding the business overseas and developing it into an international brand, improving production and operations, and introducing promotions such as cake vouchers, while maintaining Bengawan Solo’s traditional customer base.18

Plans to expand Bengawan Solo overseas have been discussed since 2003, but the company preferred to take its time to research markets, think through production issues and quality control, and test responses at overseas trade fairs.19 With the majority of its customers at Singapore stores comprising tourists, particularly those from Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia, Bengawan Solo is focusing on these countries for its first steps abroad. The Liew family has expressed its desire for Bengawan Solo to become an internationally renowned brand while remaining a privately held family business.20

Business philosophy
Having built its reputation as a maker of high-quality cakes and kueh, Bengawan Solo has sought to maintain its market position by following Tjendri-Liew’s business philosophy of maintaining rigorous standards in production and using premium ingredients.21 When customer feedback reported a slight dip in the quality of its products following a major expansion of outlets in the 1990s, Tjendri-Liew personally investigated the manufacturing and operational processes and instituted a standards system.22 She continues to gather customer feedback from outlets and conduct daily inspection rounds at the company’s factories.23

Bengawan Solo’s range of cakes and kueh is still predominantly handmade to maintain a traditional taste.24 However, the company has employed technology where possible to improve the production process.25 For example, Japanese encrusting technology is used to ensure consistent crusts on its pineapple tarts.26 Further, custom-made revolving ovens are also installed to ease the process of making kueh lapis (Indonesian layered cakes).27

While the company has built its reputation for quality, it has also come up with innovative ways to expand its business.28 For instance, it regularly releases seasonal products for festivals such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa, Christmas and the Mid-Autumn Festival.29 It also capitalises on special occasions like first-month celebrations for babies as well as weddings.30 Bengawan Solo is reportedly the first local company to introduce gift vouchers for customers to mark these occasions.31 Customised cakes that feature characters such as those from Disney and Looney Tunes are also one of the company’s main products.32



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Bengawan Solo. (n.d.). Philosophy. Retrieved 2016, July 18 from Bengawan Solo website: http://www.bengawansolo.com.sg/abtus_philosophy.aspx
2. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Bengawan Solo. (n.d.). Outlet details. Retrieved 2016, July 18 from Bengawan Solo website: http://www.bengawansolo.com.sg/outlets.aspx
3. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39; Cheong, J. (2000, May 15). From home confectionery to S$30m firm. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Bengawan Solo. (n.d.). History. Retrieved 2016, July 18 from Bengawan Solo website: http://www.bengawansolo.com.sg/abtus_history.aspx
6. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39; Cheong, J. (2000, May 15). From home confectionary to S$30m firm. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Cheong, J. (2000, May 15). From home confectionery to S$30m firmThe Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Bengawan Solo. (n.d.). Operations. Retrieved 2016, July 18 from Bengawan Solo website: http://www.bengawansolo.com.sg/abtus_operations.aspx
10. Sim, A. (2000, January 31). Start up for those tarts. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Bengawan Solo. (n.d.). Operations. Retrieved 2016, July 18 from Bengawan Solo website: http://www.bengawansolo.com.sg/abtus_operations.aspx; Cheong, J. (2000, May 15). From home confectionary to S$30m firm. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Koh, J. (2003, December 23). Preserving sweet successThe Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; DP Information Network Pte Ltd. (n.d.). Singapore SME 1000 2013 Award recipients. Retrieved 2016, July 18 from DP Information Network Pte Ltd website: http://www.dpgroup.com.sg/s1000/Winners/SME1000?awardYear=2013
14. Long, S. (1998, September 20). Diamonds on butter fingers. The Straits Times, p. 6; Tan, K. (2003, November 7). It's a sweet victory. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Fernandez, W. (1998, December 7). Icing on the cake for Bengawan Solo boss. The Straits Times, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Long, S. (1998, September 20). Diamonds on butter fingers. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Koh, J. (2003, December 23). Preserving sweet success. The Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Koh, J. (2003, December 23). Preserving sweet success. The Business Times, p. 16; Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Bengawan Solo. (n.d.). Philosophy. Retrieved 2016, July 18 from Bengawan Solo website: http://www.bengawansolo.com.sg/abtus_philosophy.aspx
22. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39; Cheong, J. (2000, May 15). From home confectionery to S$30m firm. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Bengawan Solo. (n.d.). Philosophy. Retrieved 2016, July 18 from Bengawan Solo website: http://www.bengawansolo.com.sg/abtus_philosophy.aspx
24. Tan, K. (2003, November 7). It’s a sweet victory. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Tan, K. (2003, November 7). It’s a sweet victory. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Huang, L. J. (2009, July 13). Domestic goddess. The Straits Times, p. 39; Tan, K. (2003, November 7). It’s a sweet victory. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Tan, K. (2003, November 7). It’s a sweet victory. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Tan, K. (2003, November 7). It’s a sweet victory. The Straits Times, p. 4; Where tradition sells. (2002, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Tan, K. (2003, November 7). It’s a sweet victory. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Tan, K. (2003, November 7). It’s a sweet victory. The Straits Times, p. 4; Where tradition sells. (2002, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Tan, K. (2003, November 7). It’s a sweet victory. The Straits Times, p. 4; Where tradition sells. (2002, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Bengawan Solo. (n.d.). Character cakes. Retrieved 2016, July 18 from Bengawan Solo website: http://bengawansolo.com.sg/whatsnew.aspx



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
Business enterprises
Bakeries--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Manufacturing industries>>Food, beverages and tobacco