How Nanyang Sauce Is Innovating

Anyone who has ever hosted a house party would likely have received countless bottles of wine as a gift.

Although soy sauce is a staple in Singapore, few would consider it a “gift-worthy” product.

Ken Koh, the manager of local brand Nanyang Sauce, has managed to turn that narrative around for the past three years.

Under his leadership, the 60-year-old company embarked on a Blue Ocean strategy – a quest for differentiation – and is on a trajectory of bottom-up innovation.

Transforming a 60-year-old business

nanyang sauce factory singapore
Image Credit: Nanyang Sauce

Nanyang Sauce was founded by Ken’s grandfather Tan Tiong How, who arrived in Singapore from Fujian in 1942.

He began to ferment his own soy sauce using his grandmother’s recipe to add flavor to the plain porridge he often ate while working as a coolie.

His soy sauce quickly became popular among his friends, and the late Tan began selling it door-to-door in 1951.

After years of hard work, he established the Nanyang Sauce Factory in 1959, which operates to this day.

Ken, 37, is also an entrepreneur himself: he founded a startup in 2005 while studying at Singapore Management University.

After 13 years leading the startup, Ken decided to return to the family business to help in 2018.

My grandfather was the main driver of the business. After its departure in 1996, the company stopped innovating and remained in the status quo for a long time.

I saw how the business stagnated and always wanted to come back to help. When you don’t innovate, you lose.

Ken Koh, director of Nanyang Sauce

Even though his mother was reluctant for him to join the company because she saw it as a “declining industry”, he was determined to re-energize the brand.

A sauce good enough to offer – an industry first

nanyang sauce factory
Image Credit: Hao Xin Choo

“In the last three years since 2018, we’ve grown our business and innovated with things that had never been done before with sauces,” Ken said.

After visiting more than 13 soy sauce breweries in the area, Ken realized that the way Nanyang Sauce produced its sauces was extremely different from other brands.

Nanyang sauce uses a traditional method of brewing passed down from Ken’s grandfather, and a bottle of sauce takes nine months to create.

When Ken visited the factories, he was “shocked” that he no longer made soy sauce the same way.

Most factories use chemical hydrolysis and the sauce can be produced in less than a week. Sometimes it only takes a day.

“We decided there was a key differentiator between our sauce and the mass produced sauce, and we kicked off the donation strategy,” Ken told Vulcan Post.

nanyang sauce gift box
Nanyang Sauce Gift Box / Image Credit: Design Orchard

Ken said that although other sauce companies are following suit by offering freebies, Nanyang Sauce was the first to promote the idea that a product like soy sauce could be used as a gift.

While paying S $ 12-88 for a bottle of sauce can be mind-boggling to some, Ken says they are the product of a “labor of love.”

In addition, they are made with only 100% natural non-genetically modified soybeans and are therefore healthier, tastier and of better quality.

Today, Nanyang Sauce has its own boutique in South Beach Road and some of its dealers include Sinpopo Grocer, FairPrice Finest, Unpackt and RedMart.

The soy sauce academy

nanyang sauce academy
Image Credit: Klook

According to Ken, customers are always surprised that Nanyang sauce uses such a traditional method to prepare its sauces.

So, Ken created the Sauce Academy in 2018, where he leads workshops to educate customers on the making and appreciation of the sauce.

Workshops available range from sauce appreciation, sauce pairing and sauce making.

The third-generation family business has even partnered with Klook, Airbnb and the Singapore Tourism Board to spread knowledge about its artisanal sauces.

It is tedious work, not easy, but we are doing our part so that this endangered device is not lost.

Like any craftsman, if we don’t share this knowledge with the next generation, all will be lost one day.

Ken Koh, director of Nanyang Sauce

In fact, Ken is all about the customer experience.

To allow customers to taste the sauce before purchasing it, Nanyang Chicken Restaurant has been set up.

Nanyang Chicken sells various local dishes, all cooked with Nanyang sauce.

According to Ken, the various chicken dishes are well received and he is looking to franchise the brand and develop it into malls.

Building on the heritage of your ancestors

Ken’s grandfather’s vision was to make the best soy sauce in Singapore, and Ken believes Nanyang Sauce has achieved this goal.

Watching his customers appreciate the sauce and enjoy it keeps Ken motivated. However, success for him is also to be able to pass on the profession of making sauce.

When his children grow up – they are one and a half and four years old respectively – he hopes they can still see soy sauce made the traditional way.

Now he dreams of building on his grandfather’s legacy and creating the best soy sauce in the world.

Featured Image Credit: Hao Xin Choo and Nanyang Sauce via Facebook

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Jothi Venkat

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