Sau Tao and Chewy – Noodle Giants
York Lo: Sau Tao and Chewy – Noodle Giants
Aside from “Doll” noodle covered earlier in the group, two of the leading local manufacturers of instant noodles are Sun Shun Fuk, maker of “Sau Tao” brand and Chewy, which were founded in the 1960s and 1970s respectively.
Sun Shun Fuk (新順福食品) and “Sau Tao” brand (壽桃牌)
Left: Sun Shun Fuk chief Cheng Wai-ming in front of the Sau Tao logo; Right: noodle production at the Sun Shun Fuk noodle factory in Cheung Chau in the 1960s.
Sun Shun Fuk founder Cheng Yiu-pang (鄭耀鵬) started making Amoy style noodles (廈門麵線) in his native Fukien province and settled on Cheung Chau island in HK in the 1950s where he worked for a noodle factory. Encouraged by a Chinese importer in Malaysia by the name of Chan Ching-fuk (陳清福), he established Sun Shun Fuk Noodle Factory (Sun as in new because of his innovative nature and Fuk in honor of Chan) in Cheung Chau in 1960 to export noodles to the Malaysian market. Initially production was mostly manual and as electricity was very expensive in Cheung Chau at the time, the drying was done naturally under the sun and the whole family helped with the production including Cheng’s teenage son Cheng Wai-ming who had to work from 4pm to 11pm after school. From its inception, the firm differentiated itself by focusing on non-fried noodles.
In 1967, the firm began production of Japanese style instant noodles and in 1976, it branched out into Shanghai noodles and cream flavored noodles. In its early years, it marketed its noodles to the Malaysian market under the “Longevity” (長壽牌) brand. When Sun Shun Fook turned its focus back to the local market in HK, Cheng Yiu-pang originally wanted to have the character “Fook” in its brand but since a popular brand imported from Taiwan already used the character, he came up with “Sau Tao” as the brand instead. In 1985, the firm registered the “Sau Tao” trademark and the next year expanded into the production of Cantonese noodles such as shrimp noodles, scallop noodles and egg noodles. In 1988, it moved into its own Sun Shun Fook Centre at 12-16 Wang Yip Street South in Yuen Long.
In the 1990s, Sun Shun Fuk emerged as one of the top noodle brands in HKthrough the launch of abalone noodle and shrimp egg noodle gift boxes andinstant noodle bowls and also benefited from its “non-fried” focus as HK consumers became more health conscious. In 1997, the firm was officially incorporated as Sun Shun Fuk Foods Co Ltd.
In the early 2000s, the firm launched its “Noodle King” series and continued its product innovation with itsoat ramen in 2006 andits first semi-fresh noodles – rice vermicelli and udon in 2007. By the late 2000s, Sun Shun Fuk produced over 500 different noodle products which were exported to over 100 markets around the world.
Chewy International Foods (超力)
Chewy parade featuring Ultraman and monster in the 1970s; Right: screenshot from Chewy’s TV commercial in the early 1980s (YouTube)
Founded in 1972, Chewy has been the largest manufacturer of rice vermicelli and one of the largest instant noodle manufacturers in HK for decades and has successfully diversified into other businesses such as the import of rice and bed linens.
Born in 1936 and a native of Nanhai, Chewy founder Edward Mok Kwok-on (莫國安) graduated from secondary school in 1953 and started his career working for Jardines as a salesman. In 1968, he and his brother David Mok Foo-keung (莫富強) founded Trans World Co (雅達洋行) to engage in trading of wigs. (see article) As the wigs market collapsed, Mok pivoted to food and began importing rice vermicelli and instant noodles from Taiwan and Thailand in 1972. The rice vermicelli from Taiwan was called “Formosa” (寶島米粉) and to reduce political sensitivity, Edward Mok rebranded it as “Chewy” which has great connotation in English and the similar sounding Chinese name was a popular brand of wigs. To launch the brand, Chewy came up with a creative packaging design which looked like James Bond’s suitcases and won the Governor’s Design Award. As the Chinese name of Chewy means “super power”, Edward capitalized on the popular Japanese TV show Ultraman (which came out in 1966) and featured Ultraman in its marketing. The firm has also spent heavily on TV advertising since the 1970s, all of which featured the memorable announcement of the brand which sounded like a cheer from the likes of the Ultraman show at the end of each commercial. Very soon the brand became one of the most popular brands in HK and in addition to the local markets, Chewy’s products are also exported to markets ranging from Iceland to South Africa and the firm also does OEM manufacturing for other brands.
Left: Article about Chewy’s noodle products with the picture of its E-Fu noodle in 1977 (KSDN, 1977-10-4); Right: Chewy co-founder David Mok Foo-keung
Aside from savvy marketing, Chewy also owed its success toefficient operations and product innovation. In 1973, Chewy installed walkie-talkie radios in its entire fleet of delivery vans to enhance communication efficiency between warehouse, sales office and customers, one of the first firms in the noodle industry to do so. In 1975, Chewy acquired a noodle factory in HK and began producing its own noodles.In 1989, Chewy moved its production up north to Toishan in Guangdong province. It has invested heavily in state-of-the-art equipment to ensure highest product quality (achieved ISO certification in 2001) and supply chain efficiency and with 2000 order deliveries involving 180 tons of goods per day has one of the largest delivery operations in HK.
In terms of product innovation, while rice vermicelli remains its top selling product, Chewy has expanded into noodle products ranging from E-Fu noodles, ramen (non-fried version launched in 2004), udon to spaghetti and macaroni and other non-noodle products such as black truffle sauce and frozen Japanese style snacks. In 2003, Chewy acquired a rice stockholder and importer/exporter license to import high quality rice from Thailand and Japan and marketed them under the “Chewy” and “Kumai” brands. Since then it has consistently been one of the top ten importers of rice in HK.
In 1981, the entrepreneurial Mok launched Livington Enterprises (利鳴企業) to import bed linens, starting with the Rapee brand from Australia and later expanded to others such as Sleeping Beauty, Sanderson, Somerelle and Santas and became the largest importer of bed linens in HK. Starting with consignment counters in department stores, Livington opened its own chain under the Rapee Living (斗室) brand after Edward Mok’s daughter Diana Mok (莫傑琳) joined the business in 1996 and currently has 7 stores (plus one Craftholic by Rapee store) and 18 department store consignment counters.
Corporate video of Chewy:
Vintage TV commercial of Chewy:
This article was first posted on 19th October 2020.
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