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Cai Png Stall to Food Empire

A visit to the Chang Cheng Group Integrated Hub

Words by Zann Cai

You might have noticed a familiar blue and red logo at many of the economic Chinese mixed rice stalls you have visited. As you recall the plethora of appetising dishes you saw at each stall, you may be wondering which brand is in question, that is sprouting all over Singapore with their staple offerings.

 

What started out as a humble economic Chinese mixed rice stall at Toa Payoh in 1994, is now an F&B group that not only has multiple stalls and a central kitchen but also a one-stop integrated building. Borrowing its name “Chang Cheng” from the name of the coffeeshop it started at, Chang Cheng has accumulated a total of 116 economic Chinese mixed rice stalls across Singapore to date. That being said, Chang Cheng Group did not stop at just expanding one brand exponentially. Mr Ricky Kok, founder and Managing Director of Chang Cheng Group, is a visionary leader who has made the group a formidable player in the F&B industry, with multiple successful brands to ensure business sustainability.

Selections at Chang Cheng mixed vegetable rice

Legacy 27 years in the making: Chang Cheng Group strives to provide authentic Chinese home-cooked fare with their four main brands – Chang Cheng Chinese Vegetables Rice, Chang Cheng Mee Wah Coffeeshop, Ming Kitchen Seafood Restaurant and Rong Kee Roasted Delights. With the ongoing expansion of the business, Mr Kok saw the need for systematic processes and unprecedented standards, to ensure quality control management. Chang Cheng established its first central kitchen at Bedok in 2000, and this has revolutionised the economic-food business in Singapore. With ingredients sliced, minced, marinated, and portioned before getting sent to respective food outlets for cooking, Chang Cheng can ensure consistency across their many outlets. Consistency is a big challenge in the F&B industry, but Chang Cheng can delight their valued customers with food tasting the same on every visit to any of their outlets.

Rong Kee Roast Meat stall

With Singapore relying heavily on food imports, many businesses are inevitably put at risk. Chang Cheng Group thus makes self-sufficiency one of their key focus as part of their sustainability efforts. Establishing their vegetable farm and vegetable processing factory in Johor Bahru, Malaysia in 2006, Chang Cheng leverages technology and advanced equipment to ensure quality, efficiency, and productivity. Self-sufficiency efforts were further stepped up in 2007, when a sauce processing factory was started in Johor Bahru too. With established presence in our neighbouring country, Chang Cheng went on to penetrate the Malaysian retail market in 2015 with their first Bar Wang Rice outlet – a highly popular Chinese mixed rice stall that you would have come across when you were in Johor Bahru back in our travelling days.

Chang Cheng Group's first Bar Wang Rice outlet in Malaysia

Two decades of hard work and effort has allowed Chang Cheng Group to acquire land at 27 Woodlands Link, to build their one-stop integrated hub with ISO and HACCP certifications for central kitchen, processing facilities, R&D facility, warehouse, and headquarters corporate office. Chang Cheng sure has had its ups and downs to reach where it is today, and it surely is an honour to get a tour around their integrated hub to witness the sophisticated efficiency and productivity of their processes.

 

As you step into the integrated hub through a small humble entrance, you will be greeted by the lift lobby ahead and a familiar sight of a bustling food court on the right. The food court houses Chang Cheng Chinese mixed rice stall of course, and a few other stalls to offer food variety to their employees and the public. Completed six years ago, the building comprises five levels, of which we visited four levels during the tour. Each level is dedicated to specific functions – level one for the food court and dry goods, level two for the main production line, level three for Halal production line and level four for the corporate office. Before the physical tour, we were given an insight into the main business operations of Chang Cheng Group, as well as its recent developments and progress.

Chang Cheng HQ (Image credit: kyoob.sg)

Over the past year since COVID-19 hit, many businesses were adversely affected, and the entire business environment was greatly disrupted. We have seen some businesses close, but we have also seen some doing better than before. As Mr Kok shares, it is about adaptability and wise reactive measures to survive such unexpected times. During the difficult period, Chang Cheng’s outlets were not spared too, and losses were suffered. Mr Kok leads his team through the unchartered waters by developing practical bento boxes for delivery to dormitories, corporations, work sites, etc. This alternative revenue channel has helped to cover losses incurred in other areas of the business and made survival possible. From a broad overview, Chang Cheng’s scope of services now includes F&B retail, daily meals provision to dormitories, schools and factories, events and corporate catering, institutional catering, and food manufacturing for clients.

 

Mr Kok also shared that one other challenge they have been facing is manpower management, especially for their front-line service. To a certain extent, this challenge is due to the foreign worker quota imposed, but there are also other contributing factors like location of the outlet, operating hours, need for competitive wages and the limited supply of Singaporeans and PRs to source manpower from. Despite the obstacles, the Human Resource (HR) team has been relentless in their efforts to cope with the demands from different stakeholders. For instance, Chang Cheng has been actively involved in job fairs organised by NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to provide career opportunities, believing in investing in their people through staff training and upskilling, as well as coming up with attractive employment packages to appeal to more potential employees. Through the sharing, it is evident that Chang Cheng Group is a company that takes care of its people. Besides believing in the ethos of giving back to their employees, such as through sharing of profits with their well-deserving people, their constant improvement in productivity, efficiency, and work processes roots from the intention of providing better work environments for everyone.

 

Since 2015, Chang Cheng Group has been working closely with e2i to procure equipment like induction cookers and walk-in blast chillers to increase productivity, and redesign work processes to make work easier, safer, and smarter for their teams. With immense support from e2i through their Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) and WorkPro Job Redesign Programme, Chang Cheng has managed to achieve a twofold increase in productivity. At the same time, the projects have also positively impacted their low wage and older workers with relevant training and higher wages. Higher productivity has translated into lower operating costs and greater economies of scale for Chang Cheng, and these productivity savings and gains have been passed on to stakeholders including customers and employees, according to Mr Kok.

Mr Ricky Kok (Managing Director of Chang Cheng Group) and Mr Gilbert Tan (CEO of e2i) in protective gear

After gaining a better understanding of Chang Cheng Group as a company and its continuous pursuit of higher productivity and efficiency, we were brought on a guided tour to levels two and three of the building. These two levels house all the ‘big boys’ that have been responsible for Chang Cheng’s big surge in productivity. After getting geared up in a shower cap, gown, and shoe covers, we were all set to be amazed by sights we will never get in a conventional kitchen.

Commercial induction cookers used in Chang Cheng Central Kitchen

First impression of Chang Cheng’s production lines: systematic and organised. Imagine the entire level being cut up into different plots of spaces, with each space for a specific function. Within each spacious room, there is a designated group of staff to perform the specific task required.

Commercial induction cooker that can cook up to 400kg of food at one time

It was fascinating to witness how huge the equipment is, they make you feel tiny in the space. As opposed to most other central kitchens, where the use of gas stoves is probably still prevalent, Chang Cheng uses commercial-scale induction cookers of different sizes to reduce cost and increase efficiency and quality. At the same time, it also makes the working environment safer and more pleasant for the staff.

We also had the opportunity to witness the hard work behind the daily meals that get sent out every day. Chang Cheng offers their clients customisation of the bento boxes based on their needs. Execution is done systematically and hygienically in the stipulated rooms, and some functions like package sealing are even automated by big-scale machines to enhance speed and efficiency.

Packing process of food boxes to be sent out to clients
Mr Gilbert Tan (CEO of e2i) and Ms Vicky Wong (Deputy CEO of e2i) packing bento boxes
Before bento boxes have been sealed by sealing machine from UK
After bento boxes have been sealed by sealing machine from UK
Labelling of bento boxes with the recommended consumption period

After the introduction to their processes, we finally got to witness the highlight of the visit – the walk-in blast chiller. It was shared that with the implementation of the walk-in blast chiller, ordering of ingredients can now be cut down to once a week due to proper storage available, compared to once a day previously. Older workers will no longer need to manage daily delivery and inventory taking, and goods can now be transported easily on trolleys from the unloading bay to the walk-in blast chiller. One can only imagine the impact such an investment has made on many of their stakeholders. Truly remarkable!

At the end of the visit, we were treated to refreshments specially prepared by the gracious Chang Cheng team, featuring items from their brands.

Bento box featuring items from different brands under Chang Cheng Group

As an avid whisky drinker, Mr Kok also rewarded his key management team and participants of the visit with a whisky workshop conducted by Mr David Chan, secretary of Association of Bartenders & Sommeliers Singapore, made possible with the support of e2i. During the workshop, we were introduced to six types of popular single-malt whisky from Japan and Scotland. We were given a brief introduction of the region each single-malt whisky was from and were taught how to taste them. Whisky certainly does not feel as foreign anymore after the short session!

Whisky workshop conducted by Mr David Chan

It was truly an eye-opening visit to Chang Cheng Integrated Hub. With the strong values, inspiring vision, and amazing foresight that Mr Kok and his team have, it is no surprise that Chang Cheng Group has reached where it is today, albeit a journey of ups and downs over the past 27 years. It is also comforting to witness how Mr Kok sees his staff as a great asset to the company, believing in the importance of investing in them and constantly seeking a better work environment for everyone.

 

For more information on Chang Cheng Group, please visit https://changcheng.sg/en/

To find out more about how e2i can help your business, please visit https://e2i.com.sg/

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