Yan Chim Kee (甄沾記) – the Life, Death and Rebirth of the Century Old Coconut Candies & Ice Cream Maker
York Lo: Yan Chim Kee (甄沾記) – the Life, Death and Rebirth of the Century Old Coconut Candies & Ice Cream Maker
The history of the confectionery industry in Hong Kong would not be complete without including the history of Yan Chim Kee, the prominent maker of coconut candies and ice cream. Founded in 1915, Yan Chim Kee has gone through a century of ups and downs and even disappeared from the market for a few years in the late 2000s but has since re-emerged and continue to cater to lovers of coconut-related goodies.
Yan Chim Kee was named after its founder Yan Lun-lap (甄倫立), whose nickname was Ah Chim (阿沾). A native of Enping in Guangdong province, Yan allegedly learn how to make coconut candies in Malaya and started selling them on the streets of Hong Kong. It was popular enough that a store was set up on 65 Caine Road (right next to On Lok Yuen) to manufacture candies on a large scale, first by hand and later by machinery with the products also expanding to coconut ice cream and other types of candies. For many years the Yan family lived on the second floor of the Caine Road store and the firm also hired many fellow clansmen from Enping, some of whom spun off to start smaller competitors to make coconut candies such as Yan Shing Kee (甄誠記,founded in 1938, closed in 2014), Yan Sheung Kee (甄常記) and Yan King Kee (甄景記)
In 1927, Yan Lun-lap passed away and his 19 year old son Yan Choi-Yuen (甄彩源,1908-1970) took over the business. The firm opened a branch in Canton (with its own building) and by the 1930s, its products, which were registered with both British and Chinese governments, were marketed in Macau and coastal cities such as Shanghai and Tientsin and exported to America and Southeast Asia.
In 1938, the Japanese occupied Canton and the Yan Chim Kee store there was looted. During the Japanese occupation of HK, Yan Chim Kee’s production was significantly reduced and in the early years after the War business was challenging even with contracts from the government to manufacture a variety of candies. In 1947, its daily candies production was 2000 pounds.
In 1953, Choi-Yuen purchased a parcel of land in the fishing village of Wong Chuk-hang to build a 4 story vacation home.
In 1957, Yan Chim Kee was in the headlines as one of its staff Yan Woon-kiu attacked four fellow colleagues (all with the last name, Yan) at the 65 Caine Road store with a knife, for which he was sentenced to 6 years in jail. The following year, Yan Chim Kee decided to move its production to Wong Chuk-hang and converted the family vacation home on 27 Wong Chuk Hang Road into a plant, hiring locals from fishing families as workers with the men chopping coconuts and females wrapping the candies.
In 1962, Yan Chim Kee acquired state of the art candy machinery through China Engineers which was capable of wrapping 600 pieces of coconut candies per minute. (the manager at China Engineers at the time was Hu Fa-kuang, who later started Ryoden Group and became a Legislative Councilor). A two story dormitory was also provided to workers and the firm was known for its proper treatment of workers.
Left: The original Yan Chim Kee store at 65 Caine Road in Mid-Levels; Center: the former Yan Chim Kee factory in Wong Chuk Hang (now Yan’s Tower); Right: Yan Chim Kee ad from the late 1960s (Source: Ta Kung Pao)
Left: Yan Choi-yuen in 1947 (Source: HK Factory Survey profile of Yan Chim Kee). Right: Yan Choi-yuen (first from the left) and P.K. Chiu (second from left) of HK Kowloon Confectioners & Bakers Association presenting charity check to Shum Wai-yau (second from right), publisher of Wah Kiu Yat Po (Source: Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1962-9-30)
Yan was active with the CMA and the firm participated in the HK Products Expo as early as 1940 although it was lower key compare to some of the other firms. He was also active with the Confectioners & Bakers Association and donated candies to children and charitable causes. In 1970, he died at the age of 62 and was survived by 10 children. The business was succeeded by his sons Julian Yan Kwok-kin (甄國鍵, rank 5) and Gay Yan Kwok-kee (甄國基, rank 7)and the focus was shifted to ice cream.
In 1982, the firm replaced Kowloon Dairy as the exclusive distributor of Magnolia ice cream manufactured by San Miguel. It also invested heavily in TV advertising for its ice cream products in the 1980s and in 1985 launched a very creative marketing campaign partnering with Japanese cartoon GodMars. In 1990s, the firm moved its production to the mainland and the Wong Chuk Hang plant was re-developed into Yan’s Tower in 1995. The move to the mainland proved disastrous and combined with other factors, the firm was declared bankrupt in 1999 and production ceased in 2006.
One of Choi-yuen’s daughters Evelyn Yan Yin-yin (甄賢賢 rank 9) decided to revive the brand in 2011, starting out with selling coconut flavored Chinese New Year cake at the HK Products Expo that year. Thanks to the help of food distributor and supermarket operator Tung Tai Hong, the brand regained distribution foothold and soon its coconut candies, coconut egg rolls returned to the market with production being done in Malaysia. A marketing partnership was formed with designer Keo Wen and Yan Chim Kee speciality stores were opened within Eslite stores while Evelyn retained brand ownership and control of R&D and production.
Left: Yan Chim Kee booth at the 1958 HK Products Expo; Right: Yan Chim Kee ad in the 1953 HK Products Expo brochure (Source: HK Memory)
This article was first posted on 19th May 2017.
- 香港工商日報, 1957-05-29
- Wah Kiu Yat Po 1962-5-22
- 華僑日報, 1982-07-01
- Ming Pao Weekly
- Bastille Post