Singapore's most endearing brands: Foreign roots but part of rite of passage here

Invented by an Englishman, manufactured in Thailand, and owned by a Japanese group, Brand's Essence of Chicken nonetheless remains, in the eyes of many, a distinctively Singaporean product.

It even remains indelibly associated with the Singaporean rite of passage of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), although Singapore-listed Cerebos Pacific, which owns the brand, has never run advertising campaigns in conjunction with PSLE results.

The comforting tonic is often taken by stressed pupils to help them through the crucial exam.

Brand's Essence of Chicken was first bottled and sold in England in 1835 by H.W. Brand, a former royal chef, and exported all over the British empire. Brand & Company passed through various hands over the next century and a half, and Cerebos Pacific became the owner of the chicken essence in the 1980s.

Despite these changes of ownership, Ms Neerja Sewak, 50, the executive vice-president and chief commercial officer of Cerebos' health supplement division, confidently told The Straits Times: "The DNA of this brand is exactly as it was started by H.W. Brand, which was to promote wellness for people."

The DNA, perhaps, but not the entire range of tonics sold under the Brand's name. Noting that Brand's chicken essence became popular in colonial Malaya as it was seen as a modernised spin on traditional Chinese double-boiled chicken soups, she said essence of chicken must keep up with the modern world in order to succeed.

For example, in 2005 the iconic 68ml glass bottle saw its metal cap replaced with one made of tamper-proof plastic. Now, you can also get Brand's in tablet form.

"We did think that this (bottle) is not very handy, and to carry glass around is quite cumbersome," said Ms Neerja.

Keeping pace with trends is how Cerebos management envisions Brand's surviving its 180th year.

For vegetarians, there's a distinctly poultry-flavoured essence of mushroom, and "InnerShine", made from berry concentrate.

Ginseng tonic comes in sleek orange bottles designed to be chilled in the fridge. You can even order Brand's products online.

Although Brand's has a sizeable market share here, Cerebos thinks that it might be time to send the chicken essence back to conquer the markets where it has its roots. Britain is one potential market; another is Japan, home of Cerebos' parent Suntory Group.

"I think the success of a brand is, wherever it goes it becomes as if it's a country's own brand," said Ms Neerja. She would consider it a win "if we take it to Australia (and) Australians start to believe it was discovered in Australia".

This article was first published on August 8, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.