5 Things You Should Know About Yeo Hiap Seng

YeoHiapSengLogoIf you’re fond of the odd cool bottle of Chrysanthemum tea, Sugar Cane drink or H-TWO-O you’re likely to be familiar with the name Yeo Hiap Seng (YHS) (SGX: Y03) – commonly known as Yeo’s.

The food and beverage manufacturer started life in China’s Fujian Province, where, in 1901, Mr Yeo Keng Lian started out by making soy sauce in his small shop, named the Hiap Seng Sauce Factory.

As the Japanese invasion swept across China in the 1930s, there were fears the family business was at risk of being seized or destroyed by the advancing army.  Keng Lian’s wife urged her eldest son Thia In, who was now running the company to seek greener pastures abroad. He and his family made the gruelling journey to Singapore following her death in 1937.

In 1938, the first Yeo Hiap Seng Sauce Factory was opened on Outram Road, and Yeo’s soy sauce quickly proved a popular staple in many Singaporean households.

By 1955, Thia In’s four brothers had joined the business, which was incorporated as Yeo Hiap Seng Canning and Sauce Factory Private Ltd. The company’s ownership was split between the five brothers in 1956.

Whilst the company began by making soy sauce, it quickly expanded into canning food and producing soybean milk. By 1957, it was bottling a quarter of a million bottles of sauces per month and nearly 2m cans of food per year. Around one third was for the Singapore market, the rest exported to SE Asia, Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, the USA and Europe.

But did you know…

  1. Yeo Hiap Seng was the first company to make canned curry chicken in 1950, allowing consumers to prepare a meal in minutes. In 1967, it was also the first company in the world to package Asian drinks in sterile Tetra Brik Aseptic containers, which prolonged their shelf life to over six months.
  2. The name Hiap Seng (杨協成) signifies “unity”, “harmony” and “success”.  The lighthouse in Yeo’s logo was to symbolise Yeo’s wish to be a shining light for Jesus Christ.
  3. In 1942, a 10kg bomb was dropped on the YHS factory during a Japanese air raid, leaving it an unsightly mess. However, this damage spared it from being seized by the Japanese for use as an ammunition depot – meaning it was able to continue production throughout the Japanese Occupation.
  4. The company pioneered the bottling of soybean milk and chrysanthemum tea. It was the sale of these and other Asian drinks that accounted for 70% of the factory’s profits in the 1950s.
  5. YHS had a joint venture with the government’s investing arm Temasek Holdings when they teamed up for the acquisition of American food manufacturer Chun King in the 1980s – however the US$52m acquisition suffered large losses.

Yeo Hiap Seng Holdings was listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange in 1969, holding 49% of the new company and offering 1.6m shares to the public.

Family Feud

However, the company has not been without its share of drama. Following a family feud in the 1990s, the Yeo family’s collective stake in the company was split up.

Singapore’s richest man, Ng Teng Fong won the takeover bid and his private property development company, “Far East Organization” became YHS’ majority shareholder. Yeo Hiap Seng has since diversified into property development, in particular landed properties and condominiums.

Today the company is one of Singapore’s largest food producers with a market value of almost S$1.5b – quite a change from the little shop making soy sauce in China.

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The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalised investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore contributor Alison Hunt doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned.