Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at BreadTalk Group's 20th Anniversary Dinner and Dance on 8 January 2020.
Mr George Quek
Chairman, BreadTalk Group,
Ms Katherine Lee
Deputy Chairman, BreadTalk Group,
Board members, past and present,
Staff of the BreadTalk Group,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Growth of BreadTalk Group and the Food Industry
A very good evening to all of you. Congratulations to the BreadTalk Group on your 20th anniversary!
When I met some industry leaders a few years ago, they recounted an incident many years back that spurred them to work together. An economic planner from a government agency had described their industry as a “sunset industry”, and asked them to plan to get out of Singapore. Determined to prove him wrong, a few industry leaders worked together, to develop their businesses together. Their motto was “there is no sunset industry, only sunset thinking!” George was not present at this meeting, but I am sure he shares those sentiments.
This growth mindset applies to all industries, and the food industry, in particular, has done well. Over the years, the food industry here in Singapore has grown, and done well. Between 2013 and 2018, the food manufacturing and food services sectors grew from $6.6 billion to $9.4 billion in terms of value-add and they now offer good jobs for over 270,000 workers.
A number of Singapore companies, including BreadTalk Group, have also expanded by venturing overseas. From just one BreadTalk store at Parco Bugis Junction in 2000, you now have more than 1,000 outlets, and close to 8,000 staff, across 16 countries. Besides BreadTalk outlets, these include many other successful concepts such as Toast Box and Food Republic, and partnership with global brands like Din Tai Fung and Wu Pao Chun. My heartiest congratulations!
On the occasion of your 20th anniversary, it is useful to reflect on the ingredients of the BreadTalk Group’s success. I think there are at least three.
First, constant innovation and improvement to stay current. Second, expanding internationally to create and capture opportunities beyond our shores; and third, nurturing talent and helping your employees to grow with the company.
The first ingredient is innovation. This is not about creating something new for the sake of being new. It is fundamentally about understanding and meeting consumers’ changing preferences – sometimes before we ourselves recognise them!
This is reflected clearly in the many new products that you have created over the years. Your signature pork floss bun is what made BreadTalk so popular at the start, but you have not rested on your laurels. You have continued to create new flavours and new concepts. Such as the ‘Oishii Japan’ range, which include Japanese curry buns, Hokkaido milk cheesecakes, and many other products that were inspired by the Cherry Blossom season. These products were also released in key markets such as Thailand, where Japanese flavours are popular.
BreadTalk has also stayed ahead by anticipating new trends – such as consumers’ increasing health consciousness. In response, you introduced new products, which use nutritious ingredients such as quinoa, red yeast rice, flaxseed and organic walnut.
You have also continued to improve and create new customer experience by going digital, including self-ordering kiosks at Toast Box, to reduce waiting time for customers and enabling customers to make convenient cashless payment across all BreadTalk and Toast Box outlets.
The second ingredient of your success is in expanding internationally, to capture the big markets around us. The BreadTalk Group has this international mindset from the start. George began his foray into the food industry by selling dragon candy at a kiosk in Taiwan. He gained experience through the school of hard knocks, but he persisted. In 2000, he started BreadTalk. Just three years after the first BreadTalk outlet opened in Singapore, he branched into Jakarta, and later Shanghai.
Today, the BreadTalk Group has outlets not just in Asia, but also in Europe and the Middle East and you have the ambition to grow further, doubling your number of stores across the globe to 2,000 by 2022. This is a bold target, and I wish you success!
The BreadTalk Group has been an inspiration for other Singapore companies seeking to venture overseas. I hope that you will encourage them, share your best practices with them, and even partner them to venture abroad together, like how you have partnered Song Fa Bak Kut Teh, and tapped on your market insights to help them, work together with them, venture abroad and grow their brand. This collaboration has been very successful. In just three years, you have helped Song Fa Bak Kut Teh set up 19 outlets across Asia. We may be from a little red dot, but when we encourage each other and work together, we can shine more brightly!
The third ingredient of success is in nurturing talent. Finding and nurturing the right talent is key to both innovation and internationalisation. As we grow the food industry, we are able to create new and better jobs. Many of these new jobs will require more complex skill sets. This means that a successful company must empower their workforce to upskill and reskill throughout their careers. So that their employees grow together with them over the years. The BreadTalk Group has done well in this aspect and I am happy to give out the Long Service and Special Awards to five BreadTalk pioneers later this evening. Congratulations to all the recipients! I am also very happy to meet some of your staff earlier on, including some very young ones.
One of tonight’s recipients is Chef Loo Hoe Soon. He is one of the BreadTalk pioneer staff. Before joining BreadTalk, Chef Loo worked at a Japanese bakery as a trainee baker. He was inspired by the Japanese bakers’ dedication to quality and attention to detail. Chef Loo initially joined BreadTalk as a store manager, but his bosses knew about his experience, and he was invited to get involved in creating new flavours. Over the years, Chef Loo was given numerous opportunities to sharpen his skills. He has gone on multiple study visits overseas to pick up the latest baking techniques, explore new technology, and experiment with new flavours and ingredients. Today, Chef Loo is the Technical Director of the R&D Department. He also trains younger bakers at the various BreadTalk outlets to groom the next generation of chefs. This is very commendable, for a ‘sifu’ to pass on his skills generously.
It is also very remarkable that at this evening’s celebration, you have more than 1,500 of your staff here. I was told that most of your outlets closed early today, so that staff could attend the dinner. Indeed, as companies transform, it is critical that you put your workers at the centre, and seek to grow their skills. Secretary General of the NTUC, Mr Ng Chee Meng and Deputy Secretary General Heng Chee How are here this evening. As they say, ‘Every Worker Matters’. Keep up the good work!
The Government will continue to support the food industry’s efforts to innovate, expand internationally, and nurture talent. There are no sunrise or sunset industries. What we must do is to have sunrise thinking, to be entrepreneurial, to respond to changes, if we are to create new opportunities and importantly, to work together, to achieve maximum synergy. That way, Singapore can become a leading food and nutrition hub in Asia. As Asia’s economy grows, people will want more and better quality food.
This is why we introduced Industry Transformation Maps (ITM) for the food manufacturing and food services industries in 2016. ITMs bring stakeholders together, to create a brighter future for companies, their workers and their industries. For instance, under the “FoodInnovate” initiative, companies, big or small, have access to shared facilities where they can test out their ideas, and scale-up new products. Companies can also come together to share knowledge, build on each other’s strengths, and collaborate on new products.
Enterprise Singapore and the other Government agencies will continue to support such interactions and collaborations. However, whether an ITM ultimately succeeds or fails depends on whether our companies are ready and willing to step forward, and work with each other, with our workers and Union, and with the Government. This tripartite partnership is a hallmark of our Singapore approach.
This partnership also reflects the spirit of the Singapore Together movement. Businesses play a big role in building a better future economy together. I am very glad that BreadTalk Group has been an active member of the business community and I encourage other Singapore firms to participate actively, as well. If we bring our unique strengths to the table, and work together, we can build new capabilities; raise our overall standards and productivity; and grow our pipeline of talent in every industry, including the food industry and in doing so, build a brighter future for all.
To George, Katherine and all your staff at the BreadTalk Group, you have done very well over the last 20 years. My heartiest congratulations!
My best wishes for your further success ahead!
I look forward to seeing – and tasting – the fruits of your success.
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