Words by Julia Chan
Discover how workers in this la mian business sweat less and earn more.
Established almost three decades ago in 1993, Zhen Neng Zhu LaMian Pte Ltd started specialising in selling la mian (read: handmade pulled noodles) using its own recipe, accompanied by dumplings and soup.
Since their founding, this local company has expanded to multiple stalls island-wide in food courts and coffee shops. As an acknowledgement of their excellent food and service, Zhen Neng Zhu LaMian Pte Ltd has received awards for entrepreneurship such as Asia-Pacific No. 1 consumer brand in 2010 and 2017.
The business started when Lu Xianlan and Wei Lan Ping learnt F&B skills from a Malaysian relative who was in the F&B industry and was about to retire. Eager to start out on their own, the founders eventually took over the stall without hesitation and started to operate the stall without engaging any external help.
With the aim to present the best food quality to customers and after many years of sweat and hard work, Zhen Neng Zhu LaMian Pte Ltd finally gained traction and more people started to know about the brand.
The brand got a media boost in 1998, when its Chinatown stall was interviewed by Singapore’s first outdoor Chinese infotainment show, City Beat. After the episode showcasing its food, its business expanded further, and the company decided to open its own factory.
Zhen Neng Zhu LaMian Pte Ltd uses fresh ingredients such as fish and vegetables for its food items and prepares dumplings by hand on the day itself to keep the freshness. In the past, its factory workers, mostly seniors, had to cut meat and vegetables manually (which took about one hour to produce ten kilograms of products) before manually mixing the ingredients during food preparation in various batches.
This work was sweaty and uncomfortable. On top of this, as food was prepared manually, and older workers had to rely on their memory and experience to control the temperature and duration of the cooking process.
To help make these processes more productive, Zhen Neng Zhu LaMian Pte Ltd tapped on NTUC Employment and Employability Institute (e2i)’s Job Redesign Grant to purchase and implement seven automatic commercial machines, each replacing a tedious manual process.
With the Automatic Commercial Vegetable Cutter and Automatic Commercial Meat Mincer Machine, older workers only need to load the vegetables or meat into the respective machines, which is much easier and safer, instead of cutting by hand.
With a simple press of a button, ten kilograms of products can be produced within ten minutes (instead of an hour by manual work). The Automatic Commercial Mixing Machine Mixing then simply mixes the ingredients.
The automatic commercial induction cooker, automatic soup cooker, automatic steam cooker and automatic kitchen cooker, enable older workers to pre-set the desired temperature and cooking duration of the prepared ingredients.
Once the time is set up, the cooker will automatically switch off to stop the cooking process which will minimise overcooking of food. Older workers also do not need to constantly monitor the cooker and could perform higher value tasks.
Training workers to learn how to use the new equipment was easy, as they were interested to learn, seeing how the machines could help with their workload. The vendor did a briefing on how to operate each piece of equipment and Zhen Neng Zhu LaMian Pte Ltd was grateful that tapping on the Job Redesign Grant was facilitated by Cheryl Chan from e2i.
Besides having to sweat less, older workers can now use the time saved and to learn new cooking steps for the different sections instead of doing the same thing every day. Five older workers were impacted by the productivity initiative to not only have easier, smarter and safer jobs, but also received a salary increment from the company.
With higher productivity, Zhen Neng Zhu LaMian Pte Ltd was able to expand to food delivery via GrabFood and Foodpanda which helps the company survive the COVID-19 pandemic. It also plans to open up a small restaurant in future.
For more information on Zhen Neng Zhu LaMian Pte Ltd, please call 6482 4970