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Taking the long term view: Pere Ocean’s Second Generation shares views on bringing the business into the future

23 August 2019 by Food&HotelAsia

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To outsiders, it may seem that inheriting the family business means that one has ‘made it’. FHA Insider decided to find out more from Eugene Tan, a second generation owner of Wanin Industries Pte Ltd.

Pere Ocean, a brand under Wanin Industries Pte Ltd, is a family-run business established in 1986. Originally a truck spare parts distribution business that started from Indonesia, Wanin Industries was trading internationally from America to Africa. The idea to sell clean, bottled water came to Eugene’s father and uncles during their extensive travels to these regions. The family began building the business and today, Pere Ocean has operations in Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Success for the company came through the family’s astuteness in business and sheer hard work. Eugene Tan, Head of Special Projects, recalls his father’s advice. “As he constantly reminds us, it’s a business where we are selling ice to Eskimos, because of how clean Singapore water is, we had to cross the hurdle of educating our customers on the purpose of bottled water and its benefits. Having bottled water dispensers is convenient as you can make hot and cold drinks. It also contains natural minerals that are good for our natural immune systems. On top of that, we noticed MNCs and international companies using dispensers as an added benefit for their staff. Today, it has become a norm practised by companies large and small.”

 

Eugene Tan, Head of Special Projects, Wanin Industries Pte Ltd

Being the first in the market meant that Pere Ocean had a product that consumers still did not know they wanted, and it was a product that MNCs could not find in Singapore. Singapore’s market was growing exponentially at that time, when more corporations were entering the market and there was a pent up demand that was not met. “We had a very effective sales team and the timing was right. It was the classic case of being at the right place at the right time. This led to a huge growth and with an eager market ready to adopt, the rest was history.”

 

Tips for business survival: Gaining work experience and listening to advice

Eugene did not jump into the business right away. He decided to gain work experience through internships with other organisations. He worked with an accountancy firm and IT company to attain a better understanding of the operations within an organisation, and picked up valuable skill sets such as “learning how to deal with sensitive data, sales and marketing, and negotiation skills.”

“From time to time I would also travel with my dad for business trips when I was younger and run sales for the company. Upon graduation I was given the option to work outside before returning or joining the family business. Taking my dad’s age into account and my wish for him to retire and fulfil his dreams, I decided to join the business earlier while he still has the energy to guide me. It was my opportunity also to grow closer with my dad, as while growing up, he was much focused with his work and we did not have much opportunity to bond. Through working with him, I was able to get to know him better,” he adds.

Eugene rose through the ranks in the company, working with different departments and teams, before his current position as Head of Special Projects. And what did he feel was his proudest achievement to date?

Eugene’s immediate reply was “…an opportunity to redo or redesign a range of products that was not performing in the local and export market. This product range came under my care and I rebranded the entire feel of the product, and brought in an ex-Mediacorp artiste/Sea Game medallist to endorse the beverage. This was extremely successful as our brand became known to many new international customers who wanted to be a part of the brand journey.”

What about the best piece of advice he had received in the course of his career?

“Do not be in a rush. As a young second ‘gen-er’, we tend to be ambitious, and have many ideas which we would like to implement when we first enter the business. However, there were pitfalls that I was privy to, and fortunately for me, there were many senior members of the company we own whom were rich in experience and were able to point out certain oversights that I might have missed while rushing to make some decisions during my earlier days. Their wealth of experience helped and guided me throughout my journey. I was also reminded to respect those who have shown loyalty and have been with us for many years. These were individuals that watched me grow up, and have been with the company for more than 15 years, some even when it first started. I learnt to balance the management between the older and younger staff, striving to retain our family-like atmosphere, while pushing the boundaries at the same time. This also meant that we met with less resistance when trying to introduce new methods or strategies into our business operations, and during the digitalisation phase.”

As the company grew, Pere Ocean started to expand its product range, providing direct piping dispensers, as well as bottled drinks such as sports drinks or juices. It was part of a shifting strategy to expand the existing portfolio, long before competitors started entering into the space of bottled water. With a deep understanding of the consumer market and the demand for different options and choices, the company pre-allocated resources into their R&D.

“We were the first in the industry to collaborate with higher learning institutes to co-develop calcium water. Albeit it did not take off, however it was an important lesson for us as we saw a growing need for functional drinks. This led us down the path to develop more functional drinks such as vitaminised-flavoured water and sports drinks enhanced with vitamins. These drinks were well received in the international market. Especially with the recent push on the war on diabetes, our drinks which are low in sugar, are popular with the younger generation who values drinks with health benefits and are less sweet.”

Pere Ocean’s range of vitaminised beverages

 

It was not all smooth sailing for Pere Ocean, however. During the 1997 and 2008 financial crises, Wanin Industries weathered uncertainty by focusing on producing quality products and providing them at reasonable prices. “Our customers recognise the quality of the products we provide, which meets all the international standards at a price that is hard to match. We stay on top of our consumers’ top-of-mind recall by collaborating with local television artists to endorse our products. Last but not least, the management took drastic measures in order to sustain the salaries and bonuses of our colleagues because they understand that fundamentally the business is run by our colleagues and not just themselves. They believe in the idiom “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”. This is the motto they live by and embody.”

Stepping into the future

In line with Singapore’s plan to develop into a Smart Nation, Pere Ocean has been slowly investing in technology to enhance its manufacturing and production capabilities, and increase business effectiveness. The company has adopted CRM and ERP systems to keep better track of its products. This has, in turn, led to better customer engagement. “In addition, we have also adopted IoT sensors in our manufacturing line to track production, which has increased the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), maintained cost competitiveness, as well as increased overall productivity and efficiency.”

“Times have changed and as we move towards Industry 4.0, many process flows and business operations will change. Some jobs will be made redundant and certain job processes changed. With rising costs of operations and customers wanting more transparency and efficiency, companies will move towards more digital solutions to address these issues. The introduction of big data to help a company operate more effectively is something that many SMEs are grappling with. That being said, it’s only a matter of time that the companies will adopt these practices to change with the times,” says Eugene.

It’s more than just digitalisation of its business operations and processes though. In the last couple of years, Pere Ocean has been working towards a strategy that will incorporate the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (UNSDGs). A key ideal that it follows is the development of a sustainable product. This has resulted in heavy investment, over the past few years, in its manufacturing lines to reduce the plastic usage and wastage for its bottles to reduce the company’s carbon footprint in the environment. Pere Ocean has also implemented practices to reduce wastage along the entire manufacturing process that has earned it a 3R Packaging Award – in recognition of companies who have made notable efforts and achievements in reducing packaging waste – from Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA).

Aware that its core product – water – is a limited resource, the company has taken steps to ensure its water source is protected and replenished at a sustainable rate. With this in mind, it has also pivoted R&D efforts towards developing functional drinks that will not just quench thirst, but much needed minerals.

From a company trading in machinery spare parts to become a well-known brand in the region, Pere Ocean has come a long way from its humble origins. It will be exhibiting at FHA-Food & Beverage. Eugene shares more details: “FHA has always been a major exhibition for us that we cannot miss. It brings in potential buyers from around the region and gives us the exposure and opportunity to not just catch up with old and new customers, but also a chance to introduce the new product ranges that we have developed over this past year. This time around, we will be launching a range of exciting products that are both healthy and functional. These products will address the needs of the aging population within our region in an easy-to-consume format and priced competitively. We believe they will fulfil a void in the market.”

Finally, what’s Eugene’s advice for next generation owners taking over family businesses for the first time?

“Do not worry. Over the last couple of years we see many second or third generation owners entering the F&B industry as their parents take a step back from the business. I found it helpful to form a support circle of fellow second or third generation owners who are quick to share your troubles. You are not alone. Seek out mentors to guide you through your journey and bounce your ideas off. You may be surprised at how willing they are to contribute to your growth at the workplace. Respect those who had been with the company since your parents’ or grandparents’ time, as they carry with them a lot of experience. However, be patient to guide and assure them of the impending digitalisation. Once assured, their buy-in to your ideas wouldn’t be as difficult as it seems.”

Catch Pere Ocean at FHA-Food & Beverage from 31 March to 3 April 2020 at the Singapore Expo. Asia’s most comprehensive food and hospitality trade event, it is where industry professionals, including distributors, importers, manufacturers and retailers from Asia will get to see and source from some of the world’s finest display of food ingredients, drinks and fresh produce from global top manufacturers and brands. Follow FHA official socials for latest exhibition updates!  

 

 

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