National Aerated Water Company



Formed in 1929,1 the National Aerated Water Company (NAWC) manufactured, bottled and distributed soft drinks in Singapore and Malaysia.2 The company was noted for its distributorship of popular brands of soft drinks, including Sinalco and Kickapoo Joy Juice. The factory, located on Serangoon Road, has been left disused since it ceased operations in the 1990s.3 Built in the Bauhaus and art-deco architectural styles of the 1950s, some have called for the building to be conserved.4

Establishment and early history
The NAWC was formed as a partnership in 1929 between Yap Shing Nin, Cheng Sze Boo and Tan Kah Woo with a capital of $1 million. The company’s first factory was located on Hamilton Road at Jalan Besar.5

The factory continued to operate during the Japanese Occupation (1942–1945), manufacturing drinks using previously stocked ingredients and flavours as well as sugar rationed from the Japanese administration. At the time, the NAWC employed about 20 workers at its factory, turning out 3,600 bottles of soft drinks per hour.6 One of its products in the 1940s was the Peacock brand of aerated water.7 In 1952, the company began exclusively importing, distributing and bottling the popular German soft drink, Sinalco.8

The NAWC became a private limited company in 1948.9 In 1953, Ching Kwong Yew joined the company as a director and was made managing director in 1956 following the death of the company’s co-founder Yap Shing Nin.10

In 1962, Ching went on an extensive tour to countries such as Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan to visit different soft-drink factories, particularly Sinalco plants, and meet up with his business partners. During his tour, Ching and his team discussed expansion plans with their overseas partners, as well as studied modern production methods and other aspects of the soft-drink business. While in West Germany, Ching picked up the “water treatment” method of producing soft drinks, a form of distillation that maintained the flavour of Sinalco drinks.11 Under his leadership, and armed with newly acquired knowledge of modern production methods, the company proceeded with its major expansions.12

Expansions
In 1954, the NAWC marked its 25th anniversary and moved to a new $500,000 factory on Serangoon Road.13 The one-acre site and factory cost $350,000, while another $150,000 went into the purchase of machinery such as washers, fillers, conveyors, syrup equipment and carbonators from the United Kingdom. With new, updated equipment, the plant doubled its production capacity to 48,000 bottles of soft drinks a day.14 In 1959, it was reported that over 11 million bottles of Sinalco were sold in the Federation of Malaya, Singapore and North Borneo.15 By 1961, the Serangoon factory was operating with 80 workers.16


With a reported 30 percent yearly increase in sales in the early 1960s, further expansion was in order. In 1964, two years after his tour of overseas plants, Ching oversaw the establishment of a new factory in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The plant was built at a cost of $350,000 and employed 40 workers. Equipped with an American automatic machine that cost more than $200,000 and adopting modern production methods, the factory had a starting production capacity of around 600,000 bottles a month. The plant was designed with further expansion in mind with the addition of a second machine that doubled its production capacity. Production was expected to increase to 1.2 million bottles per month, with 80 workers.17

Each morning, the Petaling Jaya factory delivered its products to various parts of Malaysia in lorries and vans. The Singapore factory was responsible for the supply to Singapore and Johor, while supplies to Sarawak and Borneo were shipped from the Petaling Jaya factory. To ensure a steady supply of drinks to shops in Ipoh and along the west coast of Malaysia, the company purchased a store in Ipoh that could hold two weeks’ worth of stocks.18

Distributorships
In 1952, the NAWC obtained the exclusive right to distribute Sinalco in Singapore and Malaya.19 Created in Germany in 1902, Sinalco is a carbonated drink comprising a fruit extract – comprising orange, lemon, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry and pineapple – mineral salts and other ingredients.20

The company also introduced other popular carbonated soft drinks between the 1950s and 1970s. These included the citrus-flavoured soda known as Kickapoo Joy Juice and Royal Crown Cola, both from the United States.21

Later decades and challenges
By the 1970s, the bottling industry in Singapore was facing more challenges as a result of higher production costs. This was partly due to increased fuel prices over time, as a significant part of the bottling business involves transporting products from one place to another, as well as fluctuations in fuel prices that affected the overall production costs.22 Further, in the 1980s, health authorities began discouraging the public from consuming carbonated drinks due to its adverse health effects.23


In 1979, the NAWC was embroiled in an industrial dispute over the dismissal of six employees. The Industrial Arbitration Court subsequently held that five out of the six workers had been unfairly dismissed because of their trade union ties, and ordered the NAWC to reinstate the dismissed workers.24 In September the same year, the NAWC lost the right to distribute Sinalco in Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei.25

Two decades later in 1999, Monarch Beverage Company, the licence owner of Kickapoo, took legal action against the NAWC for trademark infringement and breach of contract. The NAWC had begun manufacturing and selling a drink called Kick for a third party, resulting in the termination of Monarch Beverage’s agreement with the firm. But the NAWC continued to manufacture Kick, leading to Monarch’s suit. The High Court and the Court of Appeal upheld Monarch Beverage’s claim.26 After losing the trademark infringement and breach of contract suit by Monarch Beverage in 1999, the NAWC ceased the production of all soft drinks.27

In 2011, the NAWC came under the media spotlight when the Ching family was engaged in a legal tussle over inherited assets, including the factory site, which is estimated to be worth S$35 million.28

National Aerated Water factory
After the NAWC stopped manufacturing and bottling soft drinks, its factory on Serangoon Road was left disused for years. However, the derelict building attracted the attention of heritage supporters who championed the conservation of the red- and cream-coloured factory with a bauhaus and art deco facade popular in the 1950s.29




Author

Gracie Lee



References
1. New $500,000 soft drinks factory opens in Oct. (1954, July 23). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. A drink for all. (1960, June 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Other buildings: The National Aerated Water Company. (2011, September 4). The Straits Times, pp. 16-17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. HARP. (2006, November 11). Today, p. 58. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. New $500,000 soft drinks factory opens in Oct. (1954, July 23). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Heritage Board. (2015, July 2). Lavender Street. Retrieved from National Heritage Board website: http://www.nhb.gov.sg/places/trails/jalan-besar/trail-sites/historic-sites/lavender-street
6. Lee, G. (1964, July 11). Sinalco. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Page 9 advertisements column 2. (1949, December 20). The Singapore Free Press, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Lee, G. (1964, July 11). Sinalco. The Straits Times, p. 12; Page 5 advertisements column 2. (1952, December 23). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. New $500,000 soft drinks factory opens in Oct. (1954, July 23). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Lee, G. (1964, July 11). Sinalco. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. World tour to buy soft drink plant. (1962, June 29). The Straits Times, p. 12; Lee, G. (1964, July 11). Sinalco. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lee, G. (1964, July 11). Sinalco. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. New $500,000 soft drinks factory opens in Oct. (1954, July 23). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. New $500,000 soft drinks factory opens in Oct. (1954, July 23). The Straits Times, p. 12; Lee, G. (1964, July 11). Sinalco. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. A drink for all. (1960, June 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Soft drink firm to build new factory in Federation. (1961, August 11). The Singapore Free Press, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Lee, G. (1964, July 11). Sinalco. The Straits Times, p. 12; Soft drink firm to build new factory in Federation. (1961, August 11). The Singapore Free Press, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Soft drink firm to build new factory in Federation. (1961, August 11). The Singapore Free Press, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. A drink for all. (1960, June 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 10; Sinalco sales rise to 1.3 m. bottles. (1964, July 11). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. A drink for all. (1960, June 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. New thirst quencher. (1972, October 9). The Straits Times, p. 6; Chandy, G. (1980, June 3). Uncapping the fizz. New Nation, pp. 10–11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Price of soft drinks up 5c a bottle. (1974, November 6). The Straits Times, p. 9; Choo, A. L. (1979, July 14). Control on prices of soft drinks to be lifted. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Take less soft drinks, Case tells consumers. (1981, April 18). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Firm is ordered: Take back 6 workers. (1979, March 10). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Bottling and distributing. (1979, September 25). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. National Aerated Water Co Pte Ltd v Monarch Co, Inc. (2000). Singapore Law Reports, 2, 24–42. (Call no.: RSING 348.595704 SLR)
27. National Aerated Water Co Pte Ltd v Monarch Co, Inc. (2000). Singapore Law Reports, 2, 24–42. (Call no.: RSING 348.595704 SLR)
28. Vijayan, K. C. (2011, April 1). Family tussle over dead nephew’s shares in factory. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. HARP. (2006, November 11). Today, p. 58; Save these buildings. (2007, January 3). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Four axed Silo members: Union settles case. (1979, April 13). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Ho, M. (1985, September 5). Bottlers look for the winning taste. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Joseph, G. (1979, March 31). Sacked five: ‘Firm did not comply with order’. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lee, K. L. (1993, January 8). National Aerated Water Co Ltd: General view [4] [Image]. Retrieved from PictureSG.

National Museum of Singapore. (c. 1940s–1970s). Sinalco wall poster [Image accession no.: 2007-55115]. Retrieved from The National Collection website: http://www.sgcool.sg/eMP/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=collection&objectId=376963&viewType=detailView



The information in this article is valid as at 28 September 2015 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.
 

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