A finger in many dining pies

A finger in many dining pies

Founded in 1987 with just a single brand to its name, Jumbo Seafood Pte Ltd has since expanded its portfolio of brands, each to tap specific corners of the dining market, and has been collectively carving a bigger space for the Jumbo name in the competitive food and beverage market.

Besides seafood, therefore, Jumbo is now also behind Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh, Yoshimaru Ramen Bar, JPOT - Singapore Hotpot Style, Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine, Singapore Seafood Republic and Jumbo Catering.

Last year, the Jumbo group, a first-time participant in Enterprise 50, was placed seventh.

The company capped this with wins for two of its brands in the Singapore Prestige Brand awards: Jumbo Seafood won in the Established Brand category and Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh, in the Heritage Brand category.

The road to this point has not always been smooth.

In 1995, for example, the group racked up $1 million in losses despite its restaurants faring well; unexpected rises in rentals had eaten into its earnings.

But chief executive Ang Kiam Meng refused to be daunted, and held on to his motto, "Lose a battle but not the war".

Recipe for success

Since opening its first seafood outlet 26 years ago, Jumbo has evolved from being a major player in the seafood industry to a food empire.

It believes that its recipe for success is akin to that for its award-winning chilli crab - requiring several high-quality ingredients falling into place for a winning combo.

Jumbo believes that a restaurant business extends beyond just serving good food. Resources are put into building a strong business foundation that will not just survive, but grow, and do better than its competitors along the way.

The company has come up with its concept of "4 Gs" that encapsulates the attention it gives to adopting innovative technologies and developing the potential of its human capital, and which it strives to deliver to its customers.

Jumbo's 4 Gs

The "4 Gs" are Great Food, Great Service, Great Value and Great Place.

Great Food: As the group grew its number of outlets, it came up against the issue of inconsistency. Mr Ang says: "The same dish with the same recipe but cooked by a different chef, but the product was coming out different. Consistency was not there."

The solution lay in the setting up of a central kitchen in 2010 to keep to consistent standards in food safety, quality and taste across all its outlets.

In-house audits are done to ensure that its kitchen operations are organised, efficient and clean.

Great Service: To make the process of ordering food at Jumbo restaurants efficient, especially during peak hours, all its outlets turn to technology - optical character recognition (OCR) order forms, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and iPads.

Jumbo's website has an online reservation system; reminders of the reservation date and time are sent out to customers via text messages.

As employees who are engaged deliver better service and are more productive, Jumbo regularly holds activities to encourage them to gather and bond with one another and develop a strong sense of belonging.

Mr Ang also believes in developing his "human capital", so employees are given opportunities to go for self-improvement courses and training programmes, including those run jointly with the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and leading up to Nitec certification.

Under an in-house Fast Track Programme, young and promising executives are identified for training to groom them into future leaders in the company.

Great Value: Jumbo delivers value through a membership programme for its customers which gives perks and discounts; its newsletter keeps its members informed about the wine dinners and cooking classes run for them. The membership programme also seeks a deeper engagement between the company and its customers, who become a source of feedback on what customers want.

Jumbo recently opened an eShop on its website, from which home cooks can buy items to easily replicating some of Jumbo's dishes at home; these include its chilli crab paste, black pepper crab spices and its famous Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh spices..,

Great Place: Mr Ang has been quoted as saying: "It brings about great pleasure to witness heart-warming family gatherings over food, successful business deals being clinched over a good meal and tourists being completely delighted over the cuisine served."

The restaurateur is thus keeping an eye on changing demographics and customer demands by introducing dining concepts.

The Jumbo Seafood outlet in Dempsey Hill, for example, offers a "lifestyle dining experience" unlike the more formal setting of its other outlets.

The Jumbo dream

This year, Jumbo Seafood opened its first outlet in Shanghai, China; it also has its sights on other parts of Asia.

These small steps, taken cautiously, are in line with eventually taking Jumbo beyond Asia, to bring Singapore seafood around the world, while holding true to its belief in bonding people through food.

The writers are students of NUS Business School

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