Tuck Lee Ice
by Chua, Alvin
Tuck Lee Ice is an ice manufacturer and provider of related services such as ice sculpting. Founded in 1957, the company has also diversified into beverage distribution and transport services for temperature-sensitive items.
The company was founded in 1957 when Hauw Kiat, an immigrant from China, purchased Tuck Lee Ice Works, founded originally by another family in 1935.1 Hauw retained the company’s name, Tuck Lee, and supplied ice to markets and coffeeshops. When Hauw Kiat died in 1961, his son Hauw Sing King took over the reins.2
After Hauw Sing King’s death in 1983, his son, Hauw Wee, took over the business. Hauw Wee had joined the family business at the age of 24 after working at an electrical and leasing firm. He did not immediately seek to expand the business, focusing on other investments before giving his full attention to Tuck Lee in 1993.3
When Hauw Wee took over the business, it had changed little from when it was first purchased by his grandfather, and still utilised the old methods of producing, transporting and selling ice. In a cold room, water was frozen in metal containers and hauled out as large blocks of ice via a pulley system, before being cut into various sizes with iron saws. The ice blocks were insulated with a coating of sawdust and covered with canvas before being transported to customers by lorry. The ice was then delivered in gunny sacks to customers, who often received the ice in an unhygienic state.4
Hauw Wee recognised the disadvantages of the traditional methods of producing ice and sought to overhaul Tuck Lee’s production and delivery systems. He researched ice works in Europe, the U.S., and Australia, and came up with new ideas for the manufacture, presentation and delivery of ice. From 1993, Hauw Wee purchased new machines that could produce hygienic, food-grade ice in various shapes and sizes, such as tubes and cubes, crushed ice and ice especially for the local dessert ice kachang, and packed them in high quality plastic bags. He also invested in refrigerated trucks, known as reefer trucks, to replace the delivery lorries. In addition, Hauw Wee improved on the company’s branding by focusing on service, introducing a slogan for Tuck Lee and ensured that all delivery trucks featured Tuck Lee’s logo.5
There was initial resistance to Tuck Lee’s new ice products from customers such as coffeeshop owners who were used to buying large blocks of ice. Hauw Wee eventually managed to persuade his customers of the advantages of his new food-grade ice. The company’s shift to a more consumer-friendly model signalled changes in the wider industry. From 1995, Tuck Lee’s competitors also moved away from traditional methods of making ice and upgraded their production facilities.6 Tuck Lee continued to conduct research and development for innovations such as ice that melts more slowly than conventional products, and instituted quality standards such as reverse osmosis and ultraviolet filtering for the water used in its products.7
Hauw Wee continued to improve Tuck Lee’s facilities and business model, and managed to break even on his investments by 2000.8 By that time, Tuck Lee was producing about 160 tonnes of food-grade ice every day for supermarkets, restaurants, nightspots and coffeeshops, and around 60 tonnes of traditional ice blocks for wet markets and fishing ports.9
Diversification and business segments
In the 2000s, supplying ice cubes for parties made up the bulk of Tuck Lee’s business, along with orders from the retail and food sectors including hawker centres, food and beverage outlets, convenience stores and petrol stations.10 Tuck Lee also became the market leader for ice supplies to nightspots — in 2007, the company delivered an estimated 1,000 bags of ice every night to Singapore’s nightclubs and pubs.11
The company also spun off a number of new ventures related to its core business. Hauw Wee’s son, Jeremy, joined Tuck Lee in 2002 and introduced the company’s ice sculpting business, providing ice sculptures for corporate events, weddings and parties.12 By 2009, ice sculpting comprised 10 to 15 percent of Tuck Lee’s business. Tuck Lee also started distributing beverages such as Archipelago beer and Fiji bottled water in 2006, as well as the provision of transport and logistics services for temperature-sensitive items.13
By 2007, Tuck Lee had become one of the industry leaders among Singapore’s ice manufacturers in terms of sales and distribution network. As of 2011, Tuck Lee operates two factories, one in Singapore and another Johor Bahru, Malaysia, with most of its products coming from the factory in Johor. The two factories have a production capacity of approximately 200 tonnes of ice daily and a total staff of around 80, up from a roster of six workers in the early 1980s.14
1. Dhaliwal, R. The Icemen Cometh. (2000, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Chen, G. Tuck Lee Gets Cooler with Time. (2007, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Chen, G. Tuck Lee Gets Cooler with Time. (2007, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Chen, G. Tuck Lee Gets Cooler with Time. (2007, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Chen, G. Tuck Lee Gets Cooler with Time. (2007, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Chen, G. Tuck Lee Gets Cooler with Time. (2007, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Dhaliwal, R. The Icemen Cometh. (2000, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Chen, G. Tuck Lee Gets Cooler with Time. (2007, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Dhaliwal, R. The Icemen Cometh. (2000, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Chen, G. Tuck Lee Gets Cooler with Time. (2007, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Chee, F. (2007, January 14). Ice Age. The Straits Times, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chen, G. (2007, August 22). Tuck Lee gets cooler with time. The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Krishnaswamy, S. (2009, September 16). Ice king adds on beverages. The Straits Times, p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Chee, F. (2007, January 14). Ice Age. The Straits Times, p. 52. 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.
Commerce and Industry>>Industries
Trade and industry
Creative ability in business--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Manufacturing industries>>Food, beverages and tobacco