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Once Bitten, Twice Strong

Words by Hoe Ziqian

Bouncing back from the bird flu of 1996, Ever Dragon Foodstuff was able to pivot its business and even managed to expand its operations. Fast forward to 2020, amidst even stronger headwinds, the company continues to defy the odds.

Ever Dragon Foodstuff has been manufacturing baked products since 1996. They specialise in fried fritters, with the most popular product being the dough fritter, or affectionately known as you tiao to Singaporeans. Ever Dragon’s products are distributed to food stalls at food courts and hawker centres, so it is not surprising for you to have tasted their product without ever knowing it.

Looking at their business model today, you would never have guessed that Ever Dragon actually started out selling chicken rice. Back in 1996, they had around ten chicken rice stalls across Singapore but owing to the bird flu that year, nine of their ten stalls were forced to close down. The only store that survived was at 826 Tampines.

With survival at stake, there was a real need to reinvent themselves. On the recommendation of a Malaysian friend, Ever Dragon ventured into the small-scale production of you tiao. They started making you tiao in the morning at 826 Tampines before reverting to their main chicken rice business in the afternoon. It took quite a while for interest in their you tiao to ramp up. The initial response was so lukewarm that the team had to resort to travelling around Singapore to try and convert rojak hawkers into their customers. The perseverance paid off eventually as their customer base slowly widen by word-of-mouth. With the increased order volume, Ever Dragon decided that it was time to transit from the selling of you tiao in the mornings to a proper central kitchen model.

While the initial design of the production model was based on that of a central kitchen, the processes were still manually driven. The food items were manually prepared by the workers, and older workers had to rely on their memory of the various steps of the production, including how long to cook and at what temperature. Given that frying is a critical part of the production process, older workers had to stand for long period in order to flip the individual pieces of you tiao at the appropriate time.

While feasible, it was ultimately a fragile operation model as Ever Dragon’s production process relied heavily on the experience of its workers. The management team was mindful of this and set out to revamp key processes through the adoption of the appropriate machinery. Having fought off the damaging impact of the bird flu bravely in 1996, it was ironic that their second wave of innovation came in when the world is battling another virus, this time at a pandemic scale.

An Ever Dragon employee holding up their signature product – ‘you tiao’ (Image courtesy of Ever Dragon)

Ever Dragon’s pursuit of a more robust operation model led to the implementation of the automatic commercial deep fryer, which allows the desired temperature and exact cooking duration to be pre-set. Once the programmed time is up, the fryer will switch off automatically to stop the cooking process. This minimises the chances of overcooking the food items and free up the time of their workers, who can switch from monitoring the fryer to performing other more value-added tasks within the central kitchen. The controlled cooking process also allows Ever Dragon to maintain the consistency of their product as they have greater assurance that the cooking process follows the exact recipe of the food item concerned.

Ever Dragon leveraged on the WorkPro Job Redesign initiative through the support of NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and the resultant transformation has benefitted a total of six elderly workers who received a salary increment on top of enjoying easier and safer work processes. The company is now more resilient and better poised to meet any future challenges.

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