Honest collaborations

Kwan Yick – a family-owned supplier of Oriental foods, sauces, and packaging materials in the UK – invests heavily in maintaining strong business relationships, in order to ensure that it meets all of its customers’ needs accurately and without delay

The notion that healthy relationships with customers, suppliers, and its own staff are key to achieving success in the wholesale industry, has guided Kwan Yick in the last 37 years. Since its inception in 1982, the company has evolved from initially supplying packaging materials and several food items to the fast-food trade in South Wales, to one of the UK’s leading specialist importers, wholesalers, and distributors to the Chinese catering trade. In this journey, the business has relied on its transparent approach and willingness to collaborate closely with all of its partners.

Tracing Kwan Yick’s roots, it is a safe bet to conclude that its philosophy stems from the family ethos that has reigned supreme throughout the company’s development. Following in the footsteps of his father Hock Leung Wo, who founded the business and remains its Managing and Marketing Director to this day, Daniel Wo is at present the organisation’s Technical Director. It is he who speaks to FoodChain to discuss Kwan Yick’s history, the reasons for its success, and the challenges the company is currently facing.

“My father started the business with two of his friends who left very early on, leaving my father and mother to drive the business until I joined in 2000,” Daniel begins. “Admittedly, back in the 1980s, it was a lot more challenging to get a business going. We were confined only to a certain local geography with limited suppliers, the company today is in a very different shape from what it was intended to be.

“At first, my father would buy cooking oil and take it around to local takeaways and restaurants. As this did not prove to be profitable, his only option was to expand the product range,” he continues. “This is why he moved into the packaging arena. It was the safest option for us, as the demand was always going to be a lot higher with all the takeaways and restaurants.”

Kwan Yick’s exploits in the packaging business have allowed the company to cut its teeth in the trade, for, as Daniel points out, “it is a very detail-oriented sector.” The path by which the business has grown in packaging has, in fact, served as a blueprint for its subsequent success in other markets. Daniel explains: “We are very keen on getting one particular category right before we move to the next one. This is why we are still leaders in packaging, because we pay attention to the little details. As a result, our products are different from everybody else’s and that gives us a clear advantage in the market.”

Over time, Kwan Yick’s product range has expanded significantly to include categories such as condiments, rice, flour and starches, noodles, prawn crackers and popadoms, sauces and preserves, wines and other beverages, tinned products, and cleaning products. Daniel notes that noodles represent the fastest growing category for the oriental market. “While mainstream noodles are leading the way, we are seeing a growing requirement for many other varieties. Considerable investment has already been made, which will lead to an increased range of noodle products to choose from.”

There are two main types of customers served by Kwan Yick. While the growth of the foodservice side of the business is limited purely by geographical constraints, the wholesale part of the company’s clientele is as buoyant as ever. “Our wholesale customers are always willing to buy more, hence our focus on this area, in particular. As a result, we have consistently grown every year except one since 1982,” Daniel remarks.

Steady growth
“We visit all of our customers at least once a month, in order to maintain a level of frequent interaction with them and understand their needs better,” he adds, opening up on what we have already mentioned earlier on – that Kwan Yick regards excellent relationships as fundamental to its continued success. “From a suppliers’ point of view, we are quite happy to travel to Asia to see them or host them if they want to come here, because we believe the relationship with our suppliers is as important as our relationship with our customers. Similarly, we hold weekly meetings with our staff, so that we can co-ordinate our efforts and address any potential issues in a timely manner.

“We have more sales people than anybody else and we travel to Asia a lot more often than many other businesses. There is no doubt that we invest a lot in managing our relationships, but, to us, this is the only way forward,” Daniel maintains. “We accept that this is our biggest overall expense, but it also yields the best results.”

He then refers to a concrete example that sheds light on how exactly Kwan Yick builds relationships with customers and staff alike. “When it comes to delivering to our foodservice customers, we use our own fleet, we train our own drivers and we load the vehicles in a specific way. We always deliver the goods according to the requirements of our clients. This ensures that our customers know that their delivery will go exactly as it did on previous occasions.

“A lot of our drivers have been with us for a very long time and they pass our culture on to the new staff. Naturally, high retention levels do not come cheap, we always buy the best lorries and offer our drivers an industry-leading package, but this is how we can guarantee that the standards set by my father 37 years ago when he was doing the deliveries himself, are retained,” Daniel claims.

Examining the state of today’s market and the factors that might affect it in the coming years, he foresees challenging times, as Brexit is still unresolved at the time of writing, and the calls against single-use plastics remain persistent in the public sphere. “It is very difficult to find a viable, environmentally-friendly alternative to certain products,” Daniel acknowledges. “We are not sure that what is being proposed at the moment is actually going to do what it is said to be doing for the environment. We are trying to play our part in finding a solution, having started to stock products 43that allow us to limit the use of surplus packaging, but it remains unclear whether a working, long-term alternative will be found anytime soon.

“Issues like this are certain to slow down future growth throughout the industry. Nevertheless, we expect to continue growing steadily, without stretching our resources. Since we remain fairly positive about the vitality of the business in the next five years, our intention is to expand our premises, increase their quality, and create a better environment for our team and customers,” Daniel wraps up.