SINGAPOREANS are hungry for rice, with the grain holding the number one position among all things Singaporeans consume. Few, however, would know the difficulties of running a rice business, and even fewer would know it as well as Tong Seng Produce's Richard Chee.
The executive director has been with the company - known for its Songhe rice brand - for 18 years, and has seen the company go through ups and downs.
"Doing business in rice is not simple," says Mr Chee. "When we just started off, Tong Seng was just a very small company. Of course, it's tough for an unknown company to market its brand."
While advertising channels were available back in 1990 when Tong Seng first started up, the company's lack of funds in advertising meant that its salesmen had to go from door to door to introduce its rice products.
Some of them even got told off during their visits, recalls Mr Chee. Getting people to know the company's brand was Tong Seng's greatest challenge then, and it relied heavily on word-of-mouth as part of its publicity strategy. "It was a very tough stage," he says.
Today, Tong Seng's brands not only include rice but also sugar and cooking oil. It imports the completed products from its suppliers located mainly in Thailand which do both production and packaging, and then distributes them to its local clients.
It does this because labour costs here are high and it is not competitive to source for material locally. In addition, the company exports a small fraction of its products "when there is a need".