Hongkong Food Products Manufacturing

York Lo: Hongkong Food Products Manufacturing

Hongkong Food Products Manufacturing Detail Image 1 York Lo

HK Food Products’ new flour mill in Kwun Tong in 1966 (Kung Sheung Daily News, 1966-11-30)

As mentioned in the article about David Sung and HK Flour Mills (HKFM), HKFM acquired the Kwun Tong mill of HK Food Products (the mill was known as “Hong Lok Flour Mill” 康樂麵粉廠 in Chinese) in 1976 and 2 years later turned it into their main mill. HK Food Products Mfg Co Ltd (香港食品製造有限公司) is a largely forgotten player in the HK flour industry today which was founded in 1963 by the shipping magnate Tsong-Yea Chao (趙從衍,1912-1999) of Wah Kwong Shipping in partnership with Brazilian Chinese businessman Ying-Saing Hwa (華蔭相,1897-1985), who like David Sung of HKFM had strong roots in the Chinese flour industry.

Hongkong Food Products Manufacturing Detail Image 2 York Lo

Left: T.Y. Chao (seated left) with his sons (standing left to right): Frank Chao, George Chao and Cecil Chao signing contract with a Japanese partner. Right: Patrick Hwa, the son of HK Food Products co-founder Ying Saing Hwa (Brazilian immigration record, 1959)

A native of Wuxi in Jiangsu province, Hwa was a nephew of T.K. Yung (father of H.C. Yung of Nanyang Cotton Mill in HK), the “Flour King” and “Textile King” of China who founded 9 cotton mills and 12 flour mills with his brother Yung Teh-sun (father of CITIC Group founder Rong Yiren) in the early 20th century. After studying agriculture at the University of Nanking, Hwa and his cousin Eugene Lee were sent to Penn State College to study milling engineering in 1920. During his time abroad, he also spent time surveying grain mills in Europe and worked as an inspector for Packard Motor Car Co. in Detroit in 1925 before returning to China to join his uncle at Foh Sing Flour Mills. After 1949, Hwa migrated to Brazil with his family where he was involved in flour mills. When David Sung achieved phenomenal success with his flour mill in HK in the 1950s, various parties became interested in the industry including Hwa and T.Y. Chao, a former lawyer turned shipping tycoon trained at Soochow University whose Wah Kwong Shipping had grown from one old vessel to a sizeable fleet of bulk carriers who with the word “Venture” in its names by the 1960s. (It is unclear as to why Hwa chose to partner with Chao in his flour venture instead of his Wuxi relatives in HK which at the time controlled some of the leading spinning mills such as Nanyang, Kowloon, Wyler and South Sea)

With Chao as chairman providing the capital (over HK$20 million) and Hwa as president the expertise, the duo picked a 20000 sq ft site at the intersection of Hoi Bun Road and Lai Yip Street in Kwun Tong waterfront and built a 100,000 sq ft plant with the largest wheat warehouse in HK at the time (160 feet tall, holding capacity of 14000 tons) equipped with state of the art machinery imported from Ocrim of Italy (Hwa’s mills in Brazil had ordered dozens of equipment from the same firm; the Macchetti brothers from Milan who represented Ocrim in HK also opened La Taverna, HK’s first Italian restaurant in 1969) capable of producing 6000 bags of flour per day. After three years of preparation, the mill opened in late 1966. T.Y. placed his architect son Cecil Chao (趙世曾) in charge of the mill while James Hu (胡小劍) was responsible for the machinery.

Hongkong Food Products Manufacturing Detail Image 3 York Lo

Cecil Chao (first from the left), Y.S. Hwa (fifth from left) and James Hu (first from the right) welcoming delegation from Italy which included the Italian Trade Minister at the HK Food Products mill in 1966 (WKYP, 1966-12-1)

The market leadership by HK Flour Mills was hard to break and with the entry of Kowloon Flour Mills the same year and Far East Flour Mills in 1967, HK Food Products never gained more than 10% market share and finally decided to sell to HKFM in 1976. In 1978, HKFM closed its Sai Wan mill (which was re-developed into Hong Kong Industrial Building) and consolidated its operation at the new and expanded plant at 4 Lai Yip Street in Kwun Tong. The mill was closed in 1995 when HKFM’s parent Lam Soon opened up a bigger flour mill in the mainland and the site has since been re-developed into C-BONS International Centre. As for the key personnel of HK Food Products – Cecil Chao turned his focus to real estate in the 1970s while T.Y. Chao and the rest of the family survived the shipping bust of the 1980s through debt restructuring and selling off his prized antique collection. Hwa moved to Orange, California where he died in 1985 at the age of 88. As a firm, HK Food Products was dissolved in 1986.

Sources:

  1. “Milling Students from China”, American Miller, March 1, 1920
  2. Kung Sheung Daily News, 1966-11-30

This article was first posted on 29th June 2018.

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