K.C. Leong (梁溎春)– F&B Industrialist and his Family and Ventures

York Lo: K.C. Leong (梁溎春)– F&B Industrialist and his Family and Ventures

Leong Kwai-chun (hereafter referred to as “K.C. Leong”) might not be a household name but he was a notable figure in the history of the food and beverage manufacturing industries in HK as he was responsible for bringing “Green Spot” orangeade, “Meadow Gold” and “Champion” condensed milk to HK and other Asian markets in the 1950s and 1960s and together with his son Chris launched the first frozen food manufacturer in HK – Convenience Foods in the 1970s.

Green Spot

K.C.Leong Image 1 York Lo

K.C. Leong (left) with his HK partner Lo Kwee-seong of Vitasoy (middle) and Mrs. May (?) at the lucky draw for a Green Spot contest in 1950 (KSEN, 1950-6-11)

A native of Nanhai in Guangdong province, little is known about the early years of K.C. Leong. After the War, he became the Far East representative of Green Spot, the maker of the famous orangeade of the same name which was founded in Claremont, California in 1934. Leong’s role was to establish partnerships with local bottlers would import fruit juice concentrates produced by Green Spot in the US and turned them into bottled drinks locally in their bottling plants. In Hong Kong, Leong secured a partnership with HK Soy Bean Products, the famous maker of Vitasoy which was founded in 1941 by Lo Kwee-seong and others (see articles on the Shiu Lock Hing family and others) and production of Green Spot commenced at HK Soy Bean Products’ new plant in Aberdeen.

In 1950, Green Spot and HK Soy Bean Products organized a lucky draw to promote Green Spot where the top two winners received HK$300 in cash prizes and all participants received a free bottle of Green Spot. The campaign was very successful and a total of 14000 letters were received.

In June 1952, K.C. Leong accompanied the chief engineer of Green Spot on a tour of Southeast Asia to oversee the construction of the Green Spot plant in Singapore and planning of plants in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. He followed that with a trip to Europe during which he visited the Netherlands and Italy. (WKYP, 1952-8-4) In December 1952, the Singapore plant of Green Spot which was built in partnership with Amoy Canning opened with daily production capacity of 240,000 bottles. (WKYP, 1952-12-27)

In April 1954, Green Spot entered the Thai market through the establishment of its bottling plant in Bangkok in partnership with Thai Chinese financier Chin Sophonpanich, the founder of Bangkok Bank (grandfather of HK banker and politician Bernard Chan). In 1958, the Thai Green Spot Co became the first manufacturer of soy milk in Thailand under the brand of Vitamilk. By then, Amoy Canning also took over the manufacturing of Green Spot in Hong Kong as HK Soy Bean Products became a partner of Pepsi-Cola. Through savvy marketing and low prices, Green Spot’s popularity in Asia actually eclipsed its popularity back in the US in the next several decades, leading to some even believing that it was a local brand although its popularity has declined in recent years.

Beatrice Foods Malaya and Burma and Meadow Gold condensed milk K.C.Leong Image 2 York Lo

Left: The signing of agreement at the Burmese consulate in Singapore to build a Beatrice condensed milk plant in Rangoon in 1961. Left to right: Aw Cheng-chye, Colonel Hla Han, Fraser & Neave chairman Max Lewis, K.C. Leong (Straits Times, 1961-11-7); Right: K.C. Leong (right) with Beatrice executive Aaron Marcus in HK in 1960 (WKYP, 1960-3-16)

The success of Leong’s partnership with Green Spot in Asia attracted the attention of American food and beverage giant Beatrice Foods (known for its “Meadow Gold” condensed milk) which appointed Leong as their Southeast Asia manager in 1960. Leong and Beatrice formed Beatrice Foods Malaya with Singapore food and beverage giant Fraser & Neave (F&N, the local bottler for Coca-Cola and Heinekan in Singapore and Malaya) and in February 1961, they opened a large plant to make condensed milk in Petaling Jaya in Greater Kuala Lumpur, allegedly the first in Southeast Asia. (Longevity Milk’s plant in Malaysia was not built until 1966)

In November 1961, Leong, Beatrice and F&N partnered up with Aw Cheng-chye of Tiger Balm manufacturer Haw Par Brothers (son of Aw Boon-par and nephew of Aw Boon-haw, who were originally from Burma)and the Defense Service Institute of Burma to establish a S$2.5 million condensed milk plant in Rangoon under the name of Beatrice Foods (Burma). Colonel Hla Han, the head of DSI and chairman of the Burma Milk Project Board flew to Singapore to sign the agreement. Sadly, the dictator Ne Win came to power in Burma the next year and the JV was nationalized in 1963. Around the same time Leong shifted his focus to partnership with the Australians but Beatrice and F&N continued to work together and deepened their relationships in 1974 with the launch of Meadow Gold brand of ice cream in Malaysia.

K.C.Leong Image 3 York Lo

Snapshots of the opening of Beatrice Foods’ plant with K.C. Leong and local dignitaries in Kuala Lumpur in 1961 (Beatrice Foods Annual Report)

Asia Dairy Industries (亞洲製乳工業) and Champion Brand Condensed Milk (冠軍煉奶)

K.C.Leong Image 4 York Lo

K.C. Leong (first from the right) with E.G. Roberts (second from the right) at the anniversary party for Asia Dairy in Hong Kong in 1970 (KSDN, 1970-4-27)

The concept of launching Asia Dairy Industries started when K.C. Leong and the Australian Commerce Commissioner to Malaysia joined the Christmas Party of the Australian Dairy Produce Board in December 1961 during which they started a discussion about how to develop the dairy industry in Asia. At the time, the majority of Australian dairy products were exported to the UK which could be threatened if proposals to join the European Common Market were passed (it did not happen until 1973) so Australian dairy producers were keen to find other markets.So ADPB decided to pay Leong to exit his partnership with Beatrice and together theyformed a 50-50 joint venture called Asia Dairy Industries in May 1962 in Kuala Lumpur with ADPB chair E.G. Roberts as chairman and Leong as managing director to build milk plants in Malaya, Thailand, Burma and the Philippines with investment commitments of $10 million. (Straits Times, 1962-5-27) With the nationalization of business in Burma, the plans for the Burmese plant was scrapped but plants were built in Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand over the next couple of years.

K.C.Leong Image 5 York Lo

Advertisement for Asia Milk’s Champion in 1968 and each can was selling for HK$1. 

In May 1968, Asia Dairy introduced its Champion brand of condensed milk to the HK market. (although Asia Dairy Industries HK was incorporated in 1964) At the time, Asia Dairy already had plants in Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand and was expecting into Indonesia the next year with annual production of 3 million cases (each case contained 48 cans). To promote the brand, the firm marketed the product at the low price of one Hong Kong dollar per can. (WKYP, 1968-5-8) The firm also distributed the product in HK through several well-known distributors such as Kwong Tak Loong (ran by the Lin family) and Tung Tai (founded by Lee Tung-ming and succeeded by his son Lee Kwong-lam) in the HK island side and Hop Hing Loong in Kowloon and Chi Sheung Hong (founded by the father of former Heung Yee Kuk chairman Cheung Yan-lung). Part of the firm’s marketing message was Australians were strong and healthy because of their dairy. (KSEN, 1968-7-12)

In April 1970, Asia Dairy celebrated its anniversary with a party at the Ambassador Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui during which the company reported profits of several tens of millions in HK dollars in the previous year with production of several million cases of condensed milk. Particularly successful was the Thai market where the firm controlled over half of the market and the Cambodian plant was expected to go live in June of that year. (KSDN, 1970-4-27)

In October 1970, K.C. Leong went to Sydney to attend the International Dairy Congress which took place once every five years with expected attendees of over 2500. At the time, he served on the board of the group and was responsible for its affairs in Southeast Asia while his operations covered Singapore, Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta and Phnom Penh. (KSDN, 1970-9-29)

As a firm, Asia Dairy Industries (HK) Ltd was renamed AustDairy Ltd in 1987 and was dissolved in 2004.

Convenience Foods (健全食品公司) and frozen dim sum

K.C.Leong Image 6 York Lo

Left: K.C. Leong (left) with Asia Dairy manager Lee Man-kit (right) presenting souvenir flag to movie star Chiu Kau (焦姣center) for opening the Tsuen Wan Sports Club football match sponsored by Champion condensed milk (KSEN, 1970-5-25) ; Right: K.C. Leong in front of Convenience Foods (TKP, 1981-5-19); Right: Chris Leong

In 1972, K.C. Cheong and his son Christopher Leong Ka-cheung (梁家鏘, 1943-) founded Convenience Foods, the first frozen food manufacturer in Hong Kong. Chris, who received his Ph.D. from MIT in 1970 saw an opportunity for frozen dim sum with the proliferation of Chinese restaurants in the US and other countries and the scarcity of dim sum masters.

In the beginning, Convenience Foods produced about 20000-30000 boxes of frozen dim sum per month but by 1981, the firm was making over 60000-70000 boxes per month, which was 2-3 times the production at founding and with the completion of the new plant at the Tai Po Industrial Estate doubling again to 150,000 boxes and annual production of 1.5 million boxes.

In 1977, Convenience Foods won the Packstar Awards for best packaging organized by the Chinese Manufacturers Association.

The Leong family sold Convenience Foods to RJR Nabisco in 1980. Chris Leong joined Amoy Canning as CEO and bought Convenience Foods back from RJR. He left Amoy in 1986 to establish the venture capital firm Techno-Ventures with Dr. Victor Fung, which merged with Transtech in Singapore to form Transpac Capital in 1989. Transpac became one of the oldest and largest venture capital firms in Asia and have backed many firms in HK and Taiwan over the years including Acer, Varitronix, Tingyi, Innovation International, Hang Fung Gold, Neo-Neon, Computer & Technologies etc. Leong was also politically active in the 1980s and was part of a 12 people delegation from HK led by Allen Lee to visit Beijing to discuss the future of Hong Kong with Chinese leaders.

Family

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Left to right: Chris Leong, Milton Leong, Leong Ka-tai, Leong Ka-chai

In February 1982, K.C. Leong died in HK at the age of 85. He had three wives who gave him 7 sons and 5 daughters according to his obituary.

Aside from Chris, three notable children of K.C. Leong are physician Dr. Milton Leong Ka-hong (梁家康), photographer Leong Ka-Tai (梁家泰, 1946-) and financier Leong Ka-chai (梁家齊, 1949-)

Milton graduated from McGill in Canada where he headed the High Risk Obstetrics unit before returning to HK to practice in 1979. He became an expert in fertility and opened the IVF Centre at the HK Sanatorium where he “made” and delivered the first IVF baby in Hong Kong in 1985. He married the daughter of HK-Macau tycoon Y.C. Liang (see article).

Ka-Tai quit his job as an engineer in the UK and became a full-time photographer in Paris. He returned to HK in 1976 and set up his own studio and has been a professional photographer for the past four decades with photos published in over 22 books, numerous publications such as the New York Times, National Geographic and Stern and was recognized as Artist of the Year by the HK Artist Guild.

Ka-chai established Roctec in 1983 which became one of the leading local dealers in securities and derivatives. He served as chairman of the HK Futures Exchange from 1992 to 1995and was inducted into the FIA Hall of Fame in 2011. He was awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star and OBE and together with his HKU classmates Lawrence Fung and Stanley Chu (co-founders of HK Economic Times) established the Musketeers Education & Cultural Charitable Foundation which is perhaps best known for funding the renovation of the Police Married Quarters on Hollywood Road into PMQ.

Sources (other than those cited above):

https://ivf-worldwide.com/cogen/board/milton-leong.html

https://www.fia.org/resources/leong-ka-chai

https://www.camera22.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/CV-HK-soft-180828.pdf

https://www.itsfun.com.tw/%E6%A2%81%E5%AE%B6%E9%8F%98/wiki-5762564-3934444

This article was first posted on 13th September 2021.

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