Booth Edible Oil Corporation (寶富油廠) – maker of peanut oil, peanut butter, medicated oil and refrigerators in the 1950s and 1960s
York Lo: Booth Edible Oil Corporation (寶富油廠) – maker of peanut oil, peanut butter, medicated oil and refrigerators in the 1950s and 1960s
Chan Yu-kee and workers of the Booth Edible Oil Corp at the “Workers’ Paradise” program hosted by Radio Hong Kong (now RTHK) in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-11-4)
Booth Edible Oil Corporation was one of the leading manufacturers of peanut oil (花生油) in the 1950s and 1960s under the brands of “Booth”, “Gold Ingots” (金錠牌), “Three Sheep” (三羊) and “Peach Flower” (桃花). Aside from cooking oil, the firm also manufactured the “Holy Sword” brand of peanut butter, “Kam Wood” brand of medicated oils and “Arrow” brand of refrigerators but the firm wasn’t able to successfully compete in any of these areas and has since faded into history.
The founder of Booth was Chan Yu-kee (陳汝錡, 1912-1970), whose Yu Kee Hong (耀基行) at 55 Bonham Strand East was the distributor of the famous MSG brand Tien Chu Ve Tsin (see article) beginning in the late 1930s. He was supported at Yu Kee Hong by his younger brother Chan Yu-tok while another brother Chan Yu-chuen (陳汝銓) was manager of the Booth edible oil factory and Chan Yu-yui (陳汝銳, not to be confused with the headmaster of Lingnan Secondary School who died in 1961 with the same Chinese name) was a doctor. When the Chan brothers celebrated their mother’s birthday at the Chung Kwok restaurant in 1962, the management team of Tien Chu Ve Tsin including chairman Wu Chi-chao (son of founder P.N. Woo) were in attendance, highlighting the closeness of the relationship between the firms. (WKYP, 1962-9-24)
As a major distributor of condiment, Chan was very close to trends in the food industry in Hong Kong and sensed an opportunity in cooking oil which was HK$30 million a year business in the 1950s with significant demand that the local manufacturers such as Hop Hing couldn’t meet. In 1950, Chan established Booth Edible Oil Corp and began the plans to build his own peanut oil factory. He built a large plant at 149-155 Kowloon City Road which occupied several tens of thousands of square feet and began large scale production in 1954.
From its inception, Booth placed huge emphasis on product quality and scientific production. It boasted that its peanut oil only contained 0.25% acidity, one of the lowest in the world. At the 1955 HK Products Expo, the firm’s booth featured microscopes and oil testing equipment and encouraged the public to inspect the quality and purity of its oil. According to the press report, the firm had a machine which could spin 20000 times per minute to refine the oil and separate out the impurities. (KSEN, 1955-12-1) Its production process was largely automated, from oil production to bottling and it also claimed to have the only oil distilling machines outside of Japan in 1961. In 1958, it opened up its factory to a HKU student for his thesis research and in 1960, Booth Edible Oil became a member of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene with membership number 6835. In addition to the general public, Booth managed to secure many food manufacturers such as Chinese restaurants to use their products in their production of food products such as mooncakes. By 1961, Booth’s annual peanut oil production exceeded $1 million. (WKYP, 1961-1-9)
Left: Pictures from inside the Booth Edible Oil factory in 1961 (WKYP, 1961-1-9); Right: sketch of the Booth Edible Oil factory in an article published in 1962 (KSDN, 1962-1-27)
Article about Booth’s new refrigerator at the HK Product Expo in 1956 with picture of the sales lady who explained its product features (TKP, 1956-12-5)
Booth also quickly expanded into other products outside of peanut oil. In 1956, Booth launched “Arrow” brand of refrigerators at the HK Products Expo. The fridge which was 24 inches tall and 20 inches wide was selling for $440 each ($410 during the Expo) and came in blue, green and beige. Despite its small size, it had room for ice and featured a magnet that prevented the door from opening accidentally and a switch which would turn the motor off when a certain cold temperature was reached to keep the noise and energy use down. This was followed by “Holy Sword” brand of peanut butter, a by-product of its peanut oil production.
At the HK Products Expo of 1960, Booth launched “Kam Wood Oil” (甘活油), its brand of medicated pain-relieving oil and promoted it heavily between 1960 and 1963. This include free giveaway of two bottles of Kam Wood oil for the purchase of each can of Booth peanut oil. (WKYP, 1961-6-7) Chan Yu-kee also donated life-saving equipment under the name of Kam Wood oil to both the Chung Sing Benevolent Society (which had a swimming club) and Eastern Sports Club in the early 1960s to promote the medicated oil. (WKYP, 1962-6-6)
Ad for Booth’s “Kam Wood Oil” in 1963. Yu Kee Hong was listed as the distributor (WKYP, 1963-3-28)
Since Booth had multiple products under its umbrella, it was active in using giveaways to attract customers. For example in 1962, each catty (1 1/3 pounds or 600g) of Golden Ingot oil sold for $1.70 and for purchase of a 28 catty tin there was free gifts of 2 pounds of Kam Wood oil, a vacuum flask, a bottle of “Holy Sword” peanut butter, a plastic cup, a half-pound tin of tea, a bottle of Tien Chu Ve Tsin and a box of wooden toothpicks. (KSDN, 1962-1-27) Another gimmick was putting coins inside the lid of the oil cans. For example, the 5 catty can of Booth peanut oil contained a 30 cents coin, 10 catty can had 50 cents and 28 catty can had a dollar. (WKYP, 1963-1-15)
Chan Yu-kee (third from the left) and fellow directors of Sik Sik Yuen at its 40th anniversary celebration in 1961. Left to right: Fong Yam-ting (方蔭庭), Wong Tai-kok (黃泰覺), Chan, Au Wai-sum (區煒森), Wong Wan-tin, Chan Lap-bo (陳立波) (WKYP, 1961-10-3)
Chan Yu-kee, who had the Buddhist name of Yee Tak (義德), was a devout Buddhist and a director of the Buddhist organization Sik Sik Yuen. In March 1970, Chan died at the age of 58. He was survived by his two wives – Chiu Wing-kam and Chiu Wing-ting (likely sisters), five sons (one of whom was studying in Canada and unable to attend his funeral) and one daughter. (WKYP, 1970-3-17)
As a firm, Booth Edible Oil never appear to have incorporated and unable to compete in any of the areas it was involved in, the firm has since faded into history.
This article was first posted on 17th August 2020.
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