By See Foon Chan-Koppen
Michelle Yee looks like a teenager and speaks in soft dulcet tones, but this petite dynamo is taking Yee Hup, a family biscuit making business, to world markets that her parents who started the gruelling business in the ‘80s, never envisioned. From a small house in Gunung Rapat, Michelle’s parents, Yee Ah Lek and his wife Wong Chin Haw, toiled at this small business, waking in the wee hours of the morning to prepare the dough, sesame seeds, fry the onions, stir the malt, mold the biscuits by hand and place them piece by laborious piece, in the custom-made clay oven, having been prepared earlier by burning coconut husks left simmering as charcoal. They would then wait till close to midday when the biscuits were ready and the task of hawking them would begin. Today this Perak home-grown brand is poised on the brink of international stardom.
Automation is Bringing a Taste of Perak to the World
In 1999, Michelle Yee returned home from the UK armed with a degree in Bakery from Cambridge Regional College, determined to help take over the load of the operations of the business from her parents who were adamant in sticking to their old ways of production.
However, by this time, the demand for their “Hiong Piah” was putting a strain on manual production methods and Michelle could hardly wait to switch over to mechanization because she could not bear to see her aged father sweating profusely over the heated oven. The final straw came when an Italian salesman who came to sell her machinery, made the remark that her father looked ‘as if he was working in hell’ and this hurt her so much that she immediately switched to automation without hesitation.
This happened in stages, first with semi automation and her father, on seeing the volume of production that far exceeded manpower, finally relented, paving the way for the automation that exists today and the volume that is being produced annually which currently stands at a capacity of about 1.5 million pieces a month.
“Well, actually this is a matter of demand versus supply. Our existing production lines were not built in a day. We expand our capacity from time to time, especially when market demands more than what we can supply. Of course, these must work in parallel with proper marketing activities and strategy. Anyway, the growth of our overseas market is encouraging, therefore, we have to keep expanding to maintain or supply the growth markets” said Ron Tan, Michelle’s husband who oversees international markets and together with Michelle, her brother Daniel, her sister-in-law and her sister Jessh, all work harmoniously together to run the entire operation. Her parents also continue to work in the business, preferring work activity to sitting idle.
Expanding Retail Network
In early years of 2000, with the move to mechanization proceeding smoothly, Michelle began to expand her retail network in Ipoh city. She bought two shophouses at Jalan Sri Ampang as their headquarters and subsequently set up a branch at Jalan Sultan Iskandar followed by another branch in Jalan Imbi in Kuala Lumpur. She also began distributing her products to souvenir shops and R&R areas along the North-South Expressway to facilitate purchases by consumers and develop awareness of the Yee Hup brand.
She began to diversify the product range; producing traditional Chinese wedding cakes, seasonal festival goodies such as Mooncakes, Christmas goodies, Chinese New Year cookies and hampers. Today they produce about 30 products and ongoing research and development (R&D) from a dedicated R&D department will see the numbers of products increasing significantly.
With her leadership and the support of the family behind her, business grew exponentially and a third branch was opened in Ipoh in front of the Sam Poh Tong cave temple at the southern exit of the city, sitting on land which she purchased and where she has now begun plans to build a modern 5-storey retail outlet (with a roof garden) featuring Perak’s homegrown products.
New Factory Milestone
2007 marked a new milestone for Yee Hup when the production shifted into its new factory, a 31,500 square feet facility in the vicinity of the old house where Michelle’s father used to sweat over the hot ovens. To preserve their heritage and to cater to customers who prefer to buy the original “Hiong Piah”, production still continues at the old house using the traditional lard for the biscuits and coconut husks for charcoal. This manual production with a maximum output of about 3000 pieces per day is now being outstripped by its sister factory whose capacity is about 28,000 pieces per 8-hour day.
ISO, HACCP, HALAL by JAKIM
2007 was significant too for Yee Hup when they were awarded the ISO22000 and HACCP (Hazard Analysis And Critical Control Point). Other recognition and certification which they have obtained are HALAL by JAKIM Malaysia; ISO 22000:2005 (Food Safety Management System) and ISO 9001:2008 (Quality Management System) by UKAS in UK (audited by BM Trada), further open doors to the international market. The recent recognition in 2011 of their HACCP by DAC (Dubai Accreditation Centre) in 2011 will see them opening the export markets to Middle East Countries like, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Oman and Yemen.
Biggest Producer and Exporter
As of today they export to Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, Canada, Dubai, Qatar, France and Germany. With their production capacity for the factory being what it is now, Yee Hup can lay claim to being the biggest producer and exporter of biscuits from Malaysia to the world.
As an SME in Perak, Michelle and her team work closely with the Perak Government. In February 2012, with the Perak state government bearing 50% of the exhibition participation charges, Yee Hup represented Perak in the GULFOOD 2012 in Dubai.
hen asked what makes her proud in all that she has accomplished, Michelle said, “What we really feel proud of is that we have managed to fully automate this homemade local product’s process and did it so it conforms to the highest standard of ISO and being able to bring this local food to numbers of overseas countries. Furthermore, our efforts have been recognised and awarded with numbers of awards.”
Too numerous to list them all, Michelle herself has been recognised in 2008 with three prestigious awards, the ‘Golden Bull Award’; the ‘SME Recognition-Innovative Excellence Award’; the ‘SME Recognition-Women Entrepreneur Award’. In 2009, she was awarded the ‘MCA Perak Women Entrepreneur Award’ and a further ‘Excellence in Achievement of World Chinese Youth Entrepreneurs’.
Not one to rest on her laurels, this mother of three with a fourth soon on the way, Michelle has set her sights on further expansion and improved quality. Soon Gunung Rapat Hiong Piah is poised for international stardom, bringing a taste of Perak to the world, thanks to the entrepreneurship of one dynamic woman.