Wing Sang Cheong (榮生祥) – A Century of Food and Wine Provisions

York Lo: Wing Sang Cheong (榮生祥) – A Century of Food and Wine Provisions

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The original Wing Sang Cheong store (blue arrow) on Queen Victoria Street in Central in the 1940s

Aside from Wang Kee which was covered earlier, another provisions firm which has been in existence for over a century is Wing Sang Cheong, which was founded in 1911 by Au Yeung Tik-pang (歐陽荻朋) and remained in his family’s control for its first eight decades. Although the importance of provision suppliers had diminished since the emergence of supermarkets in the 1970s and 1980s (some of which started in provisions such as Wellcome), the firm remains one of the leading food distributors under Taiwanese ownership.

Serving Ships and Soldiers: Wing Sang Cheong in its Early Years (1911-1958)  

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Obituary of Wing Sang Cheong founder Au Yeung Tik-pang in 1958 (WKYP, 1958-5-3)

A native of Sun Wui in Guangdong province, Au Yeung Tik-pang (whose original name was Au Yeung Yiu-sum 歐陽耀森 and also had alias of Au Yeung Hang-fu 歐陽恆富) started Wing Sang Cheong as a provisions supplier for visiting ocean liners entering the port of Hong Kong but unlike Wang Kee, it focused on food and wine and did not branch out into other shipping-related services such as stevedoring and instead expanded its business on land by distributing food and wine to restaurants, canteens, hotels and residents. The original Wing Sang Cheong store was located at 10 Queen Victoria Street in Central and its initial client base like other provisions firms were mostly foreigners such as British soldiers stationed in barracks who preferred food and beverage products from their home countries and maintained house accounts which were settled monthly. The business was very lucrative, and Au Yeung Tik-pang as a leader in the business was named honorary chairman of the industry’s trade group – the HK & Kowloon Provisions, Wine & Spirits Merchants Association (港九罐頭洋酒伙食行商會, hereafter refer to as PWSA), which was formed in 1941 with Philip Gockchin, the co-founder of Wing On as its first chairman. When Au Yeung Tik-pang died in 1958 at the age of 77, he was survived by 8 sons and 6 daughters and the oldest four sons were involved in Wing Sang Cheong.

Wing Sang Cheong under the second generation of the Au Yeung family (1958-1991)

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Left: Au Yeung Yik-fung and his wife Kam-Duen as a young couple; Right: Wedding picture of Au Yeung Yik-lai in 1957 (WKYP, 1957-12-28)

While Tik-pang’s eldest son Au Yeung Yik-chun (歐陽亦蓁) and second son Au Yeung Yik-ngon (歐陽亦昂) were involved in the business, the two key leaders of the firm from the second generation were his third son Au Yeung Yik-fung (歐陽亦芃, 1926-) and his fourth son Michael Au Yeung Yik-lai (歐陽亦藜, 1933-2015). Yik-fung graduated from the Government Vernacular Middle School (renamed Clementi Middle School in 1951) and was trained as an accountant. He married his wife Cheung Kam-Duen (張錦端) in 1953 in a ceremony officiated by Clementi’s headmaster Liang Sai-wah and attended by fellow Clementi alum J.S. Lee (from the Lee Hysan family) and the who’s who in the accounting and trading circles. In addition to serving as manager of Wing Sang Cheong, he established his first accounting firm Au Yeung Yik Fung & Co in HK in 1961 and served as general secretary of the HKPWSA and vice chairman of the HK Kowloon Chinese Wines Association and had the rare distinction of serving on the board of both the pro-Beijing Chinese General Chamber of Commerce (CGCC) and the pro-Taipei Kowloon Chamber of Commerce (KCC). His younger brother Yik-lai was a graduate of Wah Yan College and married the fourth daughter of famous HK painter Luis Chan Fook-sin (陳福善, 1905-1995) in 1957 (WKYP, 1957-12-28).

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Au Yeung Yik-fung (right) receiving the first prize for the best display competition organized by Campbell Soup from the import department manager of Dodwell & Co in 1961 (WKYP, 1961-3-21)

Under the leadership of the brothers, Wing Sang Cheong continued to expand and by the time it opened its first branch in Wanchai in 1964, it was carrying 3000 items and was a key distributor of major foreign brands such as Campbell Soup, Cadbury chocolate and Martell cognac, often winning display competitions sponsored by these brands and their trading agents as shown in the articles below. The opening reception of the Wanchai branch was attended by over 1000 guests including representation from the left (e.g. K.C. Wong and Ko Cheuk-hing of the CGCC) and the right (Jong-sau Pun and Robert Der from the KCC) and representatives of the major trading houses such as Jardines, Davie Boag and Watsons and commercial commissioners from France, Australia etc, highlighting the significance of Wing Sang Cheong as a player in the HK food and wine industry (WKYP, 1964-2-4). In 1966, the main store of Wing Sang Cheong moved uphill to 2 Bailey Street next to Lin Heung restaurant (大公報, 1966-07-03).

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Au-Yeung Yik-chun (front center) representing Wing Sang Cheong to collect the top prize for the Hennessy brandy storefront display competition organized by Jardine Matheson’s wine imports division in 1965 (WKYP 1965-7-16)

In the late 1960s, Au Yeung Yik-fung decided to immigrate to Canada where he established his second accounting firm in Vancouver in 1972. (His accounting firm in HK operated until 1987 when it was taken over by Ting, Ho, Kwan & Chan). He was succeeded by his younger brother Au Yeung Yik-lai who continued to expand the firm amid the rise of supermarkets, opening a supermarket in Wanchai at 234 Wanchai Road in 1974 and also opened a 3000 sq ft branch in Sham Shui Po at the intersection of Pak Ho Street and Fook Wa Street in 1978. (大公報, 1978-07-27). Yik-lai served as chairman of the HKPWSA from 1981 to 1985.

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Au Yeung Yik-lai (centre) receiving the top prize for Danish food display competition in 1970 from representative of the Denmark Department of Agriculture in front of the Wanchai branch of Wing Sang Cheong (WKYP, 1970-11-24)

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Au Yeung Yik-lai (second from left) with heads of the French cognac house Martell (two on the right) and head of Martell’s HK distributor (first from the left) in 1975 (KSEN, 1975-12-11)

Third generation members such as Alfred Au Yeung Chan-ying (歐陽燦螢) also worked for the firm but by the late 1980s, many family members had immigrated to Canada – including Yik-lai and Yik-fung’s younger brother Joseph Au Yeung Yik-kung (歐陽亦芎), a HKU economics graduate and chartered accountant who had served as independent non-executive director of listed companies such as jeweler Chow Sang Sang and watch maker Asia Commercial Holdings. In Vancouver, Yik-fung was joined in his accounting practice by his daughter Yvonne Au-Yeung Lam (林歐陽一螢) in 1987 and practiced until 2010. He was active in community affairs in Vancouver and was recognized for his four decades of volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society by the Governor-General of Canada in 2016.

Old Wine in a New Bottle: Wing Sang Cheong under the Lin family (1991-now)  

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Left: article about Singapore HK Properties’ acquisition of Wing Sang Cheong in 1991 (TKP, 1991-7-23); Right: Au Yeung Yik-fung delivering a speech on Canadian accounting next to his younger brother Au Yeung Yik-kung who was president of the club (KSDN, 1978-8-24)  

In 1991, the listed Singapore Hong Kong Properties Investment Ltd controlled by Taiwanese businessman Anthony Lin Wen-yen (林文彥, 1932-2011) and his wife Chou Chiang-hua (周絳華, 1937-, daughter of Taipei mayor and vice chairman of the Control Yuan Chou Pai-lian 周百鍊) acquired 80% of Wing Sang Cheong for HK$14.4 million with the option to acquire the remaining 20% at NAV plus HK$1 million in goodwill before August 1993. That option was exercised in 1993. Lin’s family was best known in Taiwan as the distributor of Italian auto brands such as Fiat, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo and the Japanese auto brand Daihatsu but Anthony and his wife also operated the trading firms of Toa Shoji and Toshin Shoji in Japan and Yennex International in Taiwan.

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Newly wed Anthony Lin (second from right) and Chou Chiang-hua (second from left) looked on while his father M.K. Lin (林木桂) on the left present NT100,000 the family received in wedding gifts to the City of Taipei in 1961. Social Welfare Bureau Chief YY Huang (黄宇元) received the gift on behalf of the mayor who was the bride’s father. (中央日報, 1961-12-30)

While the listed shell of Singapore HK Properties was sold, the Lin family retained ownership of Wing Sang Cheong and opened a Taiwan branch for the firm. Over time, the firm closed its retail outlets and moved into the Safety Godowns building in Chai Wan with its own warehouse.  Leveraging the Lins’ Italian and Japanese business connections, Wing Sang Cheong currently serves as sole agent for Japanese food products such as rinse-free JA-Rice and Hakata noodles and Italian food products such as Filippo Berio olive oil, Pasta Zara and FEGE canned beans and tomatoes. The firm have donated excess inventory to charitable organizations such as Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and Salvation Army for the past two decades. Today, Wing Sang Cheong is led by Anthony Lin’s son Chin-Yao Lin (林敬堯).

Sources (other than those quoted above):

This article was first posted on 6th July 2019.

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