Live Long and Prosper: Longevity Condensed Milk (壽星公煉奶), Black and White Evaporated Milk (黑白淡奶) and Friesland Ice Cream (菲仕蘭雪糕

York Lo: Live Long and Prosper: Longevity Condensed Milk (壽星公煉奶), Black and White Evaporated Milk (黑白淡奶) and Friesland Ice Cream (菲仕蘭雪糕)

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Left: Longevity milk from 1980 HK TV commercial (YouTube); Right: Friesland Ice cream factory on Hennessy Road in 1953 (Gwulo)  

Since the 1930s and 1940s, Longevity sweetened condensed milk and Black & White evaporated milk have become staples in households and restaurants in Hong Kong and across Southeast Asia. Longevity was popular for infant nutrition and is still popular for making coffee and toast while Black & White has been the key ingredient for making Hong Kong style milk tea, the “cha” in “cha chaan teng” (HK style café). Although these iconic brands had strong local identities (Longevity’s Chinese name and logo being the Chinese god of longevity and Black & White’s role in the development of “cha chaan teng”), they are both products of the Dutch dairy giant Friesland (now FrieslandCampina) which successfully penetrated the local markets with the help of savvy Chinese executives such as N.E. Allaye Chan, H.W. Chan, C.M. Chau and Nim-Yan Choi over the years. From the 1930s to 1960s, Friesland also manufactured Friesland Ice Cream in Hong Kong but that brand had faded into history. 

Friesland and the Genesis of the Longevity Brand

Friesland traces its origins to dairy cooperatives in Holland in the 1870s. In 1913, Cooperatieve Condensfabriek Friesland (CCF) was formed to manufacture condensed milk and other dairy products and in 1919, the firm registered the “Friesche Vlag” (Friesian Flag), “Dutch Baby” and “Bonnet Rouge” brands for international markets.

Although Friesland did not establish its HK office until 1938 when it incorporated Friesland Trading Co Ltd (Chinese name of 壽星公煉奶公司 which means “Longevity Condensed Milk Company”) and Friesland Ice Cream & Cold Storage Co Ltd (菲仕蘭雪糕公司), the firm began marketing its products in HK before then and it first registered the “Longevity” trademark for milk products with the HK government in 1931 although in interviews with the press, the company have listed both 1927 and 1932 as dates when the brand was first introduced to the Hong Kong market. In terms of condensed/evaporated milk, “Longevity” was by no means the first to market as the American brands – Eagle (鷹牌, founded in 1853 by Gail Borden) and Carnation (三花, founded in 1899 by Elbridge Stuart) had been represented by the American trading firm of Connell Brothers (公利洋行) in HK since the early 1900s and had significant market share.  The year before registering the Longevity trademark (1930), Friesland registered the trademark for “Rainbow” condensed milk with the HK government, although this brand never appears to have launched in HK and was later launched as a condensed milk brand for the Middle East market in 1955. It was likely that Nassaingue Emmanuel Allaye Chan (陳翕如, 1893-1952, “N.E.”), the agent of Friesland in HK and later founder of Friesland Trading in HK who convinced Friesland to give its Dutch made sweetened condensed milk a Chinese makeover and created the iconic “Longevity” brand. (Nim-Yan Choi, later distributor of Longevity in Vietnam and the US, claimed he came up with the brand while working for a French trading firm that was representing Friesland in HK – likely N.E.’s firm although he would have been a teenager when that took place.) 

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Three trademarks registered by Friesland with the HK government in the 1930s, left to right – Rainbow condensed milk (1930), Longevity milk (1931) and Swan milk powder (1934) 

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Ad for Longevity Milk by its agent Central Trading featuring a signed letter by over 30 local doctors endorsing its nutritious value for babies. (HK Chinese Factories Survey, 1934) 

A native of Shunde in Guangdong province, N.E. migrated to the French island colony of Mauritius off the coast of east Africa. In the 1925 Comacrib directory, N.E. Allaye Chan was listed as the proprietor of The Parsee Trading Co in Shameen with T. Gumption Leong as comprador. Parsee Trading was owned in the 1910s by the Vasania family and imported a wide range of foreign food and beverage ranging from American apples to wines and spirits and tinned goods and had a branch in HK. N.E. first appeared on the HK jurors list in 1928 in which he was listed as the managing proprietor of the French Store on Nanking Road (no such street in HK so likely referring to Shanghai). By the 1935 jurors list, he was listed as manager of Central Trading Co (中原洋行), which was the agent of Longevity milk in South China (HK, Canton, Jiangmen and Macau) at the time as shown in the ad featuring endorsements from local doctors shown above. (Central Trading was incorporated in 1940 and dissolved in 1980; it was also the HK agent of liquor brands such as Gilbey’s and Hiram Walker Canadian Club whisky)  When Friesland Trading was formed in 1938, N.E. was its first manager and was assisted by a fellow Shunde native and clansman by the name of Hong-Wah Chan (陳匡華) who graduated from the Catholic sponsored Aurora University in Shanghai. In the 1939 jurors list, N.E.’s address was listed as 16 Cumberland Road and by then the Longevity brand was a household name thanks to his marketing efforts.  

Outside of business, N.E. Allaye Chan was a devout Catholic and by the late 1930s he was already a leader of the Church in HK as directors of many Catholic organizations such as the Precious Blood Hospital. In 1939, N.E. Allaye Chan met Pope Pius XII in the Vatican as a representative of the Catholics in Hong Kong. The Pope expressed his sympathy for the Chinese who were fighting the Japanese at the time and prayed for victory for the Chinese side. (KSDN, 1939-8-10) 

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Left: obituary of N.E. Allaye Chan with his picture in 1952 (KSDN, 1952-7-25); Right: Longevity milk ad in 1949 (Scouting Gazette)  

In 1940, the HK government through its Defense Regulation imposed price controls on food and the 14 oz, 7 oz and 2 ¾ oz tins of Longevity condensed milk were sold for 0.57, 0.29 and 0.14 respectively, which were few cents cheaper than the Eagle brand but more expensive than the Lighthouse, Swan and Swing brands. By late 1941, the price of the 14 oz cans had jumped to 0.68 while the prices for other two sizes stayed the same. In 1940 and 1941, Friesland Trading through the law firm of Russ & Co registered other trademarks: Pipe, Traffic (food ingredients), Turkey (flour, butter, tinned vegetable and fruit) and Flying Horse (condensed and fresh milk). In 1941, Friesland introduced the “Black and White” evaporated milk which became the preferred brand for many cafes in making HK style milk tea. 

Before the War, Friesland operated out of Asia Life/Wang Hing Building in 10 Queen’s Road Central. After the War, the firm had relocated to Holland House across the street at 9 Queen’s Road Central and in 1949, S. Hepkema and Andries Albert Bouwes (“A.A.”) were listed as directors while N.E. was manager and H.W. was assistant manager (Directory of HK, Macao and Canton). 

In July 1952, N.E. Allaye Chan died in Mauritius and his memorial service was held at the St Teresa’s Church in Kowloon.  In his memory, Friesland donated free supply of Longevity milk to orphanages in HK and Kowloon for the entire month of August and closed its offices for half a day on the day of his funeral.  (KSDN, 1952-7-24) With his wife Rosa Lee (1910-1999), N.E. had a son Richard Allaye Chan who was trained as a physician in Ireland and eventually settled in Sacramento, California after practicing in HK. N.E. and Rosa are buried in the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Sacramento. 

Friesland in HK in the 1950s and the 1960s

After N.E.’s death, Friesland was led by H.W. Chan, who was honored by the Dutch Queen in 1962 for his successful efforts in marketing Friesland products in HK and Asia. In 1963, Ritzema Van Ikema and A.A. Bouwes were directors of Friesland Trading while H.W. Chan was manager, L. Allaye Chan (likely Louis Allaye Chan, the first president of La Salle Old Boys Association) and G. Allaye (both likely relatives of N.E.) were assistant managers, S.N. Chan was export manager and Henry S.K. Chan (陳紹裘, son of H.W.) was assistant sales manager. (HK $ Directory). As shown in 1955 ad below, the provisions firm of Kwan Tai Loong (均泰隆) acted as the master distributor of Longevity milk in Hong Kong. 

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Left: Longevity milk’s 1961 ad featuring pictures of healthy babies and highlighting the vitamin A, B, D and D3 provided by its products; Right: 1955 ad for Longevity Milk highlighting free plastic lid. 

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Left: H.W. Chan receiving medal from the Queen of the Netherlands in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-5-19); right: Storefront with Longevity milk signage

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H.W. Chan (first from the right) with executives of Friesland Trading including A.A. Bouwes (fourth from left) in 1961 celebrating the silver jubilee of the firm and Chan’s involvement with the firm. (WKYP, 1961-1-10) 

In the 1950s and 1960s, Longevity condensed milk was extremely popular as the product when mixed with hot water was an affordable milk for infants and toddlers and most families could not afford fresh milk or refrigerators to keep fresh dairy milk at home. From 1938 until 1971, Friesland also operated the Friesland Ice Cream Factory, which was located at 99-103 Hennessy Road in Wanchai and was managed by C.H. Wong in the 1940s and by Chan Siu-nam (陳兆楠) in the 1950s. (WKYP, 1957-6-16) For whatever reason, the ice cream brand was unable to compete in the marketplace and faded away. 

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Article about the Longevity Milk healthy baby photo contest in 1968 with the winning picture (KSDN, 1968-12-18) 

Part of Longevity’s success was attributable to its heavy emphasis on marketing. Lots of money were spent on print and outdoor advertising and in the 1960s, Friesland organized a series of high-profile healthy baby photo contests to enhance its image as a provider of nutritional products for babies. In 1961, the award ceremony was presided by Mrs. Norman S.K. Young (see article) and H.W. Chan (WKYP, 1961-1-9) In 1968, the Longevity Milk healthy baby photo competition with top prize of HK$5000, two second prize of $1000 each, six third prizes of $500 each and 500 other prizes. A total of over 130,000 votes were received and the winning picture of Chow Ka-wai from Wo Lok Estate in Kwun Tong as shown above was picked as the winner. (KSDN, 1968-12-18) 

Outside of Friesland, H.W. Chan also controlled Luen Hing Fat Ltd (聯興發有限公司), a trading firm in flour, sugar, edible oils and textiles which was founded in 1948 and developed its own Luen Hing Fat Building at 35-39 Des Voeux Road West in the early 1960s. Luen Hing Fat has been acting as HK agent for Nippon Flour Mills (日本製粉株式会社), the second largest flour mill in Japan. 

Expansion into Southeast Asia 

In the 1950s, Friesland began a major push into the Southeast Asian markets and achieved tremendous success in the Malaysian and Vietnamese markets. 

In 1953, Friesland Malaya (子母牌煉, which means “Dutch Baby Condensed Milk Co”) was established in Singapore to distribute its products in Malaya. Instead of having Longevity as its Chinese name, Dutch Baby was used instead, highlighting the difference in product emphasis. 

Chau Chun-ming (周振明, “C.M”), a graduate of Queen’s College in HK and son of Chau Nai-yin (周乃賢), the head of accounting at Friesland Trading from 1945 to 1965, was sent to Singapore where he served as assistant manager of Friesland Malaya and was elected chairman of the Singapore Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1962. In April 1965, C.M. Chau was promoted to the manager of the firm’s Singapore branch. (WKYP, 1965-5-4)

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Left: Chau Chun-ming (left), then assistant manager of Friesland Malaya (later manager and then managing director of Friesland HK) shaking hands with Friesland’s Far East representative G.J.F. Staverman in 1957 (Straits Times, 1957-9-10); Right: Pacific Milk Industries’ factory in Petaling Jaya in the late 1960s  

In 1966, Friesland opened Pacific Milk Industries (太平洋煉奶工) in Petaling Jaya in Kuala Lumpur with C.M. Chau and H.W. Chan as directors and W.R. Van Leeuwen as managing director. (Straits Times, 1966-2-11) The $2.5 million plant, which had the support of the Malay government and was opened by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tun Razak (later Prime Minister, father of Najib), had production capacity of 700,000 cartons of sweetened condensed milk per year, significantly higher than the local demand of 90000 cartons a year at the time and a pilot plant was built in the Netherlands to simulate Malaysian conditions before the actual construction.  In 1968, Pacific Milk Industries was listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange and in 1975 changed its name to Dutch Baby Milk Industries (Malaya) Berhad. It has been using ultra high temperature processing and packaging technology since the 1970s and introduced chilled milk products in 1986 and yogurt in 1988. In 2000, the firm changed its name again to Dutch Lady Milk Industries and as of 2011 controlled 40% of Malaysia’s growing milk segment. 

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Article about Nim-Yan Choi arriving in HK from Saigon in 1963 (KSDN, 1963-6-6) 

Thanks to the efforts of Nim-Yan Choi (蔡念因1914-2013), Vietnam became another successful market for Friesland in the 1950s and 1960s. Choi was born in his native Sansui in Guangdong province and studied at Wah Yan College in Hong Kong. As discussed earlier, he worked for a French trading firm in HK as a youngster during which he claimed to have invented the Longevity brand. As the Japanese occupied HK in 1941, he fled to Haiphong in northeastern Vietnam where he continued to distribute Longevity condensed milk for Friesland. 

As the Vietcong took over North Vietnam, Choi left Haiphong in 1955 for Saigon in South Vietnam. Within a few years, he turned Longevity condensed milk, known as “Sua Ong Tho” in Vietnam into a popular product used for making Vietnamese iced coffee and desserts, feeding infants and dipping with French bread and a Longevity milk factory was built in Saigon. Choi became a community leader in South Vietnam as the president of the Rotary Club of Saigon and chairman of the Chung Cheng Hospital (中正醫院, named after Chiang Kai-shek) in Saigon. 

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Choi also spent time in HK where he had married the poet Cheung Yan-shi (張紉詩1912-1972) and after her death built a memorial pagoda on Cheung Chau island. In 1966, Choi formed Sun Hing Loong Ltd (新興隆有限公司, dissolved in 2002) in HK and between 1972-74, the firm opened 3 supermarkets in Hong Kong (Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay). After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Longevity factory in Saigon was nationalized became part of Vinamilk. Choi moved to California where he established Sun Hing Foods in 1981 to distribute Friesland’s Longevity condensed milk and Black & White evaporated milk to the overseas Chinese and Vietnamese communities in the US and Canada. 

Friesland in HK since the 1970s  

Back in HK in 1971, Friesland Ice Cream was renamed Friesland Trading (HK) Ltd while Friesland Trading Co Ltd was renamed Friesland Investments Ltd as the holding company for Friesland’s manufacturing interests in the Far East. 

In 1972, Chau Chun-ming moved back from Singapore to HK where he eventually became the managing director of Friesland Trading and founding chairman of the Singapore Association (星加坡協會) of HK. The same year, Longevity Milk sponsored a senior citizen event organized by seven community organizations in Tsuen Wan and donated 1600 cans of Longevity milk to the over 600 senior citizens participating at the event. (WKYP, 1972-3-13) 

As HK society became more affluent, customers increasingly switched from using products like Longevity condensed milk to milk powder formula for infants and dairy milk for toddlers and Friesland introduced its Friso brand of formula to the HK market in 1978 and Dutch Lady brand (子母奶) of dairy products in 1983. 

In 1980, C.M. Chau had succeeded H.W. Chan as managing director of Friesland Trading, with C.P. Fok as deputy managing director, Chun-Tak Chau (周振, likely C.M.’s brother) as financial manager and Felix Allaye Chan as general sales manager. G.F. Hepkema and G. Zeilmaker were directors of the firm. 

In 1984, Friesland acquired Foremost Dairies which included 7 manufacturing subsidiaries in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia and one trading subsidiary in Rotterdam from McKesson for US$25 million. (WKYP, 1984-1-17) 

By 1985, Eric A. Smulders was managing director in HK while C.P. Fok and C.T. Chau were still directors but H.W. Chan, the Allaye-Chan family and C.M. Chau were no longer in the picture and the firm’s HK office had moved to Star House in Tsim Sha Tsui. 

In 1986, American baby food giant Gerber appointed Friesland Hong Kong as exclusive distributor of its products in HK. At the time there were 75000 babies born every year in HK and over 160,000 children under the age of 2 in HK.  (WKYP, 1986-9-30) 

By 1994, Friesland had 150 staff in HK where it was doing over HK$400 million in sales and its office still led by Eric Smulders was located at Shun Tak Centre. (WTC Association Directory, 1996) 

In 2008, Friesland merged with Campina to form FrieslandCampina and continued its expansion in Asia through the acquisition of Alaska Milk Corporation in the Philippines in 2012. In 2015, Friesland launched its first adult nutrition formula Optimel to the HK market with TV personality DoDo Cheng as spokesperson.  

Sources (other than what’s cited above):

This article was first posted on 25th November 2019.

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