When it comes to fresh and delicious seafood, JUMBO Seafood is one of the brands that instantly comes to our minds.
Started by a group of friends “for the love of eating and seafood”, the Singaporean brand has since expanded to the Southeast Asian region.
The household name is frequented by important figures, foreign celebrities and tourists, who often pre-plan their trips to JUMBO as part of their itineraries.
We speak to their Group CEO and Executive Director, Ang Kiam Meng to understand how they have expanded to 37 outlets across 15 cities in the past 30 years.
Anchoring At East Coast Seafood Centre
The seafood chain started out as an outlet at the East Coast Seafood Centre in 1987.
It soon gained a loyal following and garnered a reputation for serving only the freshest catch, with iconic dishes such as the Chilli Crab and Black Pepper Crab on their menu.
Ang, who is now 58, currently helms the JUMBO Group. He worked as a software engineer after university and was later persuaded by his father to join the business in 1993.
His father, who is the founder of JUMBO Seafood, felt that the business was ready for expansion.
At that point of time, Ang also wanted to have a change of environment and step out of his comfort zone.
In addition, being the eldest son, he felt that he had the responsibility to take over the family business and bring it to greater heights.
JUMBO became profitable and popular very quickly. We focused on providing good food and good service, and our reputation grew.– Ang Kiam Meng, Group CEO and Executive Director of JUMBO Group, in a 2017 interview with Enterprise SG
Flopping At Their First Overseas Venture
At the back of domestic success and recognising the competitiveness and limitation of Singapore’s F&B market, they took a shot overseas and opened their first international restaurant in Indonesia in 1995.
However, it flopped due to their inexperience in opening branches overseas.
It took JUMBO almost 20 years before they attempted to expand overseas again — this time in Shanghai.
Opened in November 2013, their second overseas outlet is a tie-up with BreakTalk Group. The restaurant is located at IAPM Mall on Huahai Zhong Lu, a shopping district popular with tourists.
Since BreadTalk has been in China for some time, JUMBO sought BreadTalk’s familiarity with China and the landlords’ help to break into China.
In return, BreadTalk became a 30 per cent shareholder in the joint venture.
In less than three years, the company opened three outlets in Shanghai, all well-received by both critics and customers alike.
(In China) we took a very different approach. You know, once bitten, twice shy, so we were extremely careful.
When it comes to F&B, you have to be patient. If you rush into it, if you don’t do your homework well, it will all go down the drain in less than six months.– Ang Kiam Meng, Group CEO and Executive Director of JUMBO Group, in a 2017 interview with Enterprise SG
They conducted extensive market research of the Chinese market and engaged a consultancy company.
The restaurant chain also approached IE Singapore (now Enterprise Singapore), which helped it navigate the complexities of the Chinese market and connected the company with local contacts.
To date, they have six outlets across China, with one outlet in each city of Beijing, Xi’An and Fuzhou.
Subsequently, under Ang’s tenure, JUMBO ventured to other countries such as Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan.
Streamlining And Innovating
In order to achieve consistency in food quality, a central kitchen was set up in 2008 to conduct research and development (R&D).
Located in Kaki Bukit and spanning 10,000 sq ft, the kitchen enabled the Group to cut down on work processes.
This helped the company innovate and implement a greater variety of cuisine creations to meet the changing demands of its diners.
The centralised kitchen prepares the sauces and mixes to be delivered to the various outlets across Singapore.
Having a central kitchen was also a critical success factor for ensuring the consistency of its flavours, and enabling the company to expand overseas via self-managed and franchised outlets so that diners can savour the authentic taste of JUMBO Seafood from any part of the world.– Ang Kiam Meng, Group CEO and Executive Director of JUMBO Group
A food technology consultant was brought in to ensure that the Group’s famed dish, Chilli Crab, could be replicated in the Group’s overseas branch “without losing its flavour and texture” before the Group expand.
Through R&D at the central kitchen, the Group also started selling their Chilli Crab and Black Pepper Crab paste retail packs to consumers.
Fishing Up Accolades
In October 2015, he also oversaw the company’s S$40 million initial public offering (IPO), as it bidded to expand in Shanghai and lift productivity here.
The IPO was about eight times subscribed overall as investors vied for a piece.
The company had offered 88.23 million shares at S$0.25 apiece to the public.
Investors included Temasek Holdings unit Heliconia Capital Management and Osim International chairman Ron Sim.
This showed that investors have positive sentiments about the brand and at that time, they were thriving in China and launching their third JUMBO outlet there.
According to Ang, its East Coast Seafood Centre outlet is still the most iconic so far, as it is the first and also their flagship store in Singapore.
It is a popular spot for both locals and tourists as it overlooks the scenic view of our coastal line.
Other highly popular outlets include Riverside Point and The Riverwalk in the Central Business District.
In the financial year of 2019, the Group achieved a revenue of S$153.6 million and recorded a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8 per cent from 2015 to 2019.
In testament to the brand’s winning formula, they have bagged numerous awards and accolades which includes Singapore Tatler’s Best Taste of Singapore Award 2020, Superbrands 2019, Singapore’s Choice 2019, CTRIP Food Awards 2018, and TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence 2017, amongst others.
Their Signature Chilli Crab was also awarded “The Best Chilli Crab” by Tiger Beer Chilli Crab Championship Series 2006 and “Best Seafood Dish” in Tasty Chef Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) Culinary Competition 2007.
Diving Into Other Food Concepts
JUMBO Group acquired local favourite NG AH SIO Bak Kut Teh in 2010 and expanded the heritage brand over the years.
The brand currently has a total of four outlets in Singapore, two outlets in Taiwan and one outlet in China.
Their impressive portfolio also includes Zui (醉) Teochew Cuisine –comprising of Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine and Zui Yu Xuan Teochew Cuisine.
The JUMBO Group also brought in the Hong Kong-styled “Cha Chaan Teng” – Tsui Wah to Singapore in June 2018 with the first outlet located at the popular nightspot Clarke Quay.
The second franchise outlet was opened along the main shopping belt at The Heeren in Orchard Road in September 2019.
Another addition to their family in 2019 is Chao Ting. Located just around the corner from Zui Yu Xuan Teochew Cuisine, the fast-casual dining concept specialises in Teochew ‘pao fan’ — rice in flavourful broth, topped with crispy rice and fried egg floss.
They also opened XINYAO Hainanese Chicken Rice in 2019 that serves the iconic chicken rice in One ITC Mall, Shanghai, bringing the Singaporean favourite to Chinese diners.
JUMBO Group also manages the Singapore Seafood Republic which houses well-loved seafood dining brands under one roof.
The Group prides itself on being market-driven, preferring to spend “time and effort to study opportunities rather than go on a “gut feel’”.
Apparently, Ang and his team of chefs and managers travelled around Guangzhou and Hong Kong, “eating three meals of hotpot every day for a week” as part of market research when the JPOT hotpot restaurant concept was under development.
Unfortunately, the Singapore-style hotpot chain JPOT has closed its last outlet back in April 2019.
Last month, it was announced that the JUMBO Group is reportedly looking to acquire a 75 per cent stake in popular dumpling noodle stall Kok Kee Wanton Noodle for S$2.1 million in cash and shares.
The acquisition move comes after JUMBO reported on November 26 a net loss of about S$8.2 million for its financial year ended September 30 — this is in contrast to its net profit of S$11.7 million in the previous year.
Additionally, its revenue fell 36.5 per cent to S$97.6 million, from S$153.6 million a year ago, mainly due to the impact of Covid-19.
Weathering COVID-19 And Beyond
Ang acknowledged that COVID-19 has affected most businesses in Singapore, particularly the F&B sector.
The Group has also reviewed and pivoted our growth strategy to leverage on our strong brand presence to enlarge our wallet share in the local market via with a multiple pronged approach.– Ang Kiam Meng, Group CEO and Executive Director of JUMBO Group
This includes introducing new concepts, which target new segments, and offering new products, including rolling out of high-tea concepts, to lengthen revenue generating hours.
The reception of business and leisure travellers, who traditionally form a loyal customer base for JUMBO Seafood restaurants, also remains weak due to the restrictive travel regulations.
Our new virtual brand, HACK IT, scheduled to make its debut in December, is an outcome of our innovation efforts; an initiative to expand our pool of customers with a different profile, by leveraging on the same amount of resources we have currently.– Ang Kiam Meng, Group CEO and Executive Director of JUMBO Group
HACK IT is their first virtual dining concept, delivering affordable, high quality fresh seafood staples cooked in Southeast Asian sauces to be enjoyed in the comfort of homes, with family and friends.
Ang affirms that they will continue innovating and introducing new concepts that thrive in the current landscape — those which are wallet-friendly, apt for stay-home dining, for the younger crowds and smaller families.
Last month, they newly launched a four-course Fuss-Free Chilli Crab Set Lunch at an affordable S$29++ per pax to make JUMBO more accessible to diners.
This is part of their strategy to intensify focus on the local market while Singapore awaits Phase 3 of reopening and the return of tourists.
Featured Image Credit: WE Summit / EY