Supplies To 140 Brands, Outlets

I have never been in a central kitchen and it is certainly not a place accessible to the public. I have a keen interest in food, but not so much in the manufacturing process.

Therefore, I decided to challenge myself and find out how an F&B brand makes their products from scratch, as well as maintaining the quality and consistency of their food, especially when it supplies so many brands. .

Local chicken chain Tenderfresh prides itself on its 25,000 square foot central kitchen at the JTC Food Hub on Senoko Drive.

Developed from a single popular local cuisine concept, specializing in spring chickens and chicken wings, the Tenderfresh Group now operates a number of concepts ranging from Western fare and traditional local cuisines to food kiosks.

The central kitchen supplies the 24 brands and 73 outlets of Tenderfresh in Singapore, as well as other F&B brands. In total, they are aimed at around 140 brands and points of sale.

With that, I took a tour of Tenderfresh’s central kitchen to find out how it manages to produce 300 tonnes of chickens in a month.

The beating heart of An F&B empire

Image Credit: Tenderfresh

Tenderfresh previously operated seven multi-story units at Woodlands Loop before moving to the JTC Food Hub in 2019.

The JTC Food Hub @ Senoko is home to an ecosystem of food industry players. It combines two factory units, leaving room for a larger factory floor.

Additionally, JTC Food Hub’s CWF (Cold Room and Warehouse) feature supports Tenderfresh’s bulk storage needs and provides them with a lot of convenience as it is located directly under the units from the factory to the Hub.

As a result, they are able to maximize productivity and efficiency with their current space.

central kitchen tenderfresh
A worker sanitizes his hands before entering the central kitchen / Image credit: Vulcan Post

Before starting the tour, we had to don hairnets and personal protective equipment, as well as wash and sanitize our hands.

Tenderfresh’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Kelvin Chua informed me that the tour will be a loop – you go in at one end and exit at the other end.

He explained that this complies with ISO 22000: 2005 to ensure the quality and safety of products, one of the accreditations they have obtained.

He added that their machines start running at five in the morning every day. On some days, trucks would be ready to deliver supplies to their outlets and customers at 6 a.m.

About 80 workers work at this 25,000 square foot facility, which manufactures more than 400 items or inventory management units (SKUs).

Although they are not the largest central kitchen in Singapore, the fact that they are able to produce such a large number of products is indeed impressive.

Hot cooking

central kitchen tenderfresh
Cleanliness and neatness are synonymous with hot cooking / Image credit: Vulcan Post

The first stop on the tour was the Hot Kitchen, where cooked meals are prepared.

The meat is minced to make meatballs, the pasta is cooked in boiling water, and the soup is bubbling in two gigantic soup makers.

central kitchen tenderfresh
Workers making rolls / Image credit: Vulcan Post
central kitchen tenderfresh
Image Credit: Vulcan Post
central kitchen tenderfresh
A Soup Maker / Image Credit: Vulcan Post

Once the food is cooked, it is transferred from the hot kitchen to the packing room where it is weighed and individually wrapped before the Tenderfresh label is affixed to each package.

The sauces used for their food products such as chicken chops and pasta are also prepared in the same central kitchen.

central kitchen tenderfresh
The packing room and the individual sauce packs / Image credit: Vulcan Post

According to Kelvin, virtually everything on a Tenderfresh menu is made in this central kitchen.

Cold cooking

We then proceeded to the Cold Kitchen, where cold dishes are prepared.

Tenderfresh is known for its barbecue and fried chicken, but its chicken dishes are also served with coleslaw and potato salad.

Kelvin told me that the central kitchen produces 2000 kg of coleslaw per day in the cold kitchen.

Half of them are used in outlets under the umbrella of Tenderfresh, while the other half is supplied to other restaurants.

central kitchen tenderfresh
Cold room / Image credit: Vulcan Post

The raw vegetables used to make the salads are stored in a cold room before being washed, peeled, chopped and shredded alongside.

central kitchen tenderfresh
Washed and peeled carrots waiting to be shredded / Image credit: Vulcan Post

Once the vegetables are chopped, the blender mixes everything together (including the dressing) and the end result is a ready-to-eat coleslaw or potato salad.

central kitchen tenderfresh
This giant 400kg mixer is where coleslaw is made / Image credit: Vulcan Post

Kelvin says not all 400 items are produced in one day. There is a schedule for each item and only 20-30 items are produced daily.

For example, if carrots can be processed today, tomorrow’s schedule could be cabbage or turnips.

central kitchen tenderfresh
The packaging is done on this flow pack machine / Image credit: Vulcan Post

Once the final product has been individually packaged in 2kg bags, they will be placed in the coolers, awaiting delivery.

The star item of their menu: chicken

The third stop is the chicken processing room. The preparation of the chicken is the highlight as it is a must-have item in all of their menus.

While all of its brands (be it Tenderbest, Hawkerman or Amigo) differ in appearance and offerings, Tenderfresh’s main chicken menu is featured in each of their brands, with an emphasis on good taste at one. Excellent value.

In the central kitchen, the chicken pieces are sorted according to their size (small or large) in the cold kitchen before marinating.

central kitchen tenderfresh
The sauce is poured into the blender to marinate the raw chicken pieces / Image credit: Vulcan Post
central kitchen tenderfresh
The raw chicken pieces are placed in the blender along with the sauce / Image Credit: Vulcan Post

They use fresh chicken for their menus, which are marinated around the clock in the central kitchen before being delivered to outlets.

central kitchen tenderfresh
Marinated chicken pieces / Image credit: Vulcan Post
central kitchen tenderfresh
The chicken is wrapped on the flow pack machine / Image credit: Tenderfresh

Then the marinated chicken is packed in individual bags on the flow pack machine.

central kitchen tenderfresh
Supplies are stored in coolers or freezers, ready for delivery / Image credit: Vulcan Post

The packs are then transferred to the freezer rooms, before being delivered through Singapore. Cooking of chickens takes place only at points of sale.

Keep supplies fresh from factory to destination

The final stop on the tour is the waiting area, where supplies are transferred from chillers or freezers to the hands of logistics staff.

central kitchen tenderfresh
The waiting area / Image credit: Vulcan Post

The temperature is controlled from the chiller to the storage area to the truck to keep supplies cool. These measures all comply with HACCP certification to ensure food safety.

central kitchen tenderfresh
Workers loading supplies onto logistics trucks / Image credit: Vulcan Post

A total of 15 air-conditioned trucks deliver supplies to every corner of the island.

Each truck goes to a few locations to make sure the trucks are operating at the optimum temperature to keep supplies cool.

Now it is clear that Tenderfresh has adopted very systematic and efficient processes, leaving little room for error. Here’s a quick look at the flow in Tenderfresh’s central kitchen:

central kitchen tenderfresh
Stream in the central kitchen of Tenderfresh / Image credit: Vulcan Post

Maintenance Strict standards

Wrapped sauce and coleslaw
Image Credit: Tenderfresh

As I walked through the different parts of the establishment, I noticed how spotless everything was. Workers also operate in an orderly and efficient manner, which is an obvious result of the high standards the company upholds.

Kelvin himself spoke proudly about the cleanliness of the central kitchen as they cleaned it twice a day. He added that the processes in a central kitchen have to be very precise.

It’s like a laboratory. The weight of the ingredients must be correct otherwise the taste may not be the same.

If the wrong temperature is set or some settings are wrong, the whole batch of food can be spoiled and should be thrown away.

– Kelvin Chua, Director of Operations at Tenderfresh

He added that the reason many customers contact them is that their central kitchen is known for its high standards and is also halal certified.

In addition, there is also little or no possibility that a Tenderfresh outlet will run out of chicken.

“We don’t allow ‘sales’ in outlets because we have a central kitchen to refuel,” Kelvin said.

If there are not enough supplies, the central kitchen continues to operate. On average, 20-25 tonnes of food is produced per day.

By 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., all supplies would have been delivered to outlets and customers and they will then be ready for production the next day.

The production manager will liaise with the logistics manager on the amount of raw ingredients to order for the next day’s production, as well as coordinate with the manufacturing team on the amount of supplies to be produced each day.

This ensures that they have enough ingredients to produce the amount they need each day.

Best Chicken Supplier in S’pore

While they might not be Singapore’s biggest central kitchen, they’re easily the number one supplier of chicken here.

Their supplies are sent to all brands and outlets under their umbrella such as Tenderfresh, Tenderfresh Classic, Tenderbest Makcik Tuckshop, Hawkerman, Tenderbest and Amigo’s restaurants and kiosks.

tenderfresh singapore
Tenderfresh Outlet / Image Credit: Daniel Food Diary

While the processes of a central kitchen are not rocket science, there are enormous pressures and challenges that come with making production run smoothly.

If there is a bottleneck or hiccup, it will affect supply and outlets. Customers would face a shortage and this would negatively impact their business.

This tour definitely made me appreciate the hard work that goes into producing healthy and delicious food for us.

Featured Image Credit: JTC / Tenderfresh

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Jothi Venkat

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