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camel nuts
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With its iconic camel logo gracing packaging and signage, Camel Nuts has become a household name in Singapore.

It was founded in 1974, at a time when Singapore was navigating its economic landscape. Newlyweds Poh Ah Seng and Ong Siew Hua was eager to support their growing family, and the couple saw the food industry as a beacon of promise, particularly due to its recession-proof nature.

The concept of the camel emerged as a symbol of their business idea — an emblem of financial resilience. Just as the camel thrives in arid deserts with scarce water, Camel Nuts aimed to flourish in tough economic climates despite limited startup capital.

Furthermore, in a stroke of practical genius, the choice of a camel as the company’s icon transcended the literacy barrier of the era. With a significant portion of the population being illiterate, animal logos offered a universally understood form of branding, making Camel Nuts instantly recognisable and relatable.

Ong Siew Hua and Poh Ah Seng, founders of Camel Nuts
Ong Siew Hua and Poh Ah Seng, founders of Camel Nuts / Image Credit: Camel Nuts

With their vision in mind, the founders and a dedicated team of seven staff started their nut-roasting operation in the courtyard of their humble terrace home. They combined their expertise and passion for good food to create high-quality products that were both delightful and nutritious.

As Camel Nuts began to make waves and customer demand soared, it became clear that the courtyard’s cozy confines could no longer accommodate the growing business. Moving into a dedicated factory marked a turning point for Camel Nuts, allowing them to scale up operations.

Today, Camel Nuts stands tall as Singapore’s largest and only nut manufacturing company.

From finance to F&B

seng hua hng foodstuff
Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff, manufacturer of Camel Nuts / Image Credit: Camel Nuts

The founders’ daughter, Poh Shih Yin, is now the second-generation leader of Camel Nuts and also the director of Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff, the company responsible for the manufacturing of Camel Nuts.

Her journey is one of an unconventional transition from the realm of corporate finance to the world of F&B.

Armed with a Bachelor of Accountancy, her professional voyage commenced as an auditor with one of the Big 5 accounting firms. This experience equipped her with invaluable insights into the intricacies of financial operations, laying the foundation for her subsequent role as the Chief Financial Officer at a Nasdaq-listed media company.

Navigating the complex world of finances for multinational corporations (MNCs), Shih Yin’s expertise matured, guiding her to embrace a new challenge – to steer her family’s F&B venture to greater heights.

poh shih yin camel nuts
Poh Shih Yin, daughter of Camel Nuts’ founders / Image Credit: Camel Nuts

Taking over the reins of Camel Nuts wasn’t a hasty decision. After two decades spent refining her skills in various finance roles, Shih Yin recognised the juncture to harness her expertise for a more profound purpose. The family business presented an opportunity for her to combine her financial prowess with her inherent familiarity with the trade.

Although my professional background was primarily in finance, I was no stranger to the F&B industry. Growing up in a family deeply involved in the F&B sector, I had been exposed to the intricacies and challenges of the business from a young age.

… By taking over the family business alongside my brother, we aimed to build upon the legacy created by our parents and take the enterprise to new heights.

– Poh Shih Yin, director of Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff

The transition wasn’t without its challenges, but her knowledge of the business smoothed the initial learning curve.

Growing up, Shih Yin was immersed in the operations of the company, participating in discussions and traversing the factory floor. These experiences nurtured a deep-seated understanding of the business’s essence, ultimately aiding her in stepping into her leadership role with confidence.

Her financial background enabled her to inject fresh strategies into the business, crafting a unique approach that blended tradition with modernity. This fusion didn’t just sustain Camel Nuts — it reinvigorated the brand, aligning it with contemporary market dynamics.

Pioneering growth through innovation and adaptation

With 49 years of history, Camel Nuts has had its fair share of challenges. Staying relevant amidst rapidly changing consumer preferences is a constant struggle for any brand.

Shih Yin acknowledges this and explains how the company tackled it head-on with a brand refresh.

camel nuts brand refresh
Camel Nuts’ new packaging / Image Credit: Camel Nuts

“Camel Nuts reimagined its brand image, packaging, and marketing strategies. By incorporating contemporary elements and addressing changing consumer needs, the brand refresh revitalised the company’s appeal and strengthened its position in the market,” she said.

Additionally, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Camel Nuts faced a dual-edged sword.

The pandemic caused disruptions in the supply chain, resulting in shipping delays and shortages of manpower, leading to occasional out-of-stock situations. The company had to navigate through these challenges, working round the clock to fulfil orders and maintain a steady supply to meet the increased demand.

– Poh Shih Yin, director of Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff

Despite these hurdles, the pandemic presented unique opportunities. With people seeking comfort in food during lockdowns, Camel Nuts experienced a surge in demand.

As part of its resilience strategy, the company also harnessed the potential of e-commerce. The shift to online shopping became a silver lining, enabling it to reach a wider audience and cater to changing consumer behaviour.

The company also started beefing up its online presence, actively engaging with consumers on social media platforms, with an aim to raise brand awareness among the younger generation.

In today’s digital age, I firmly believe that digitalisation is crucial for manufacturers seeking success in the competitive market. By integrating people, data and processes, we can enhance customer engagement, empower our workforce, optimise operations, and transform products and services.

– Poh Shih Yin, director of Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff

In particular, the company’s adoption of a mobile sales and inventory management system helps to streamline operations, reducing manual errors and boosting efficiency.

“Embracing digitalisation is the key to unlocking new possibilities and securing our company’s position in this rapidly evolving landscape,” she added.

Conquering the global market

camel nuts
Camel Nuts is Singapore’s largest nut manufacturer / Image Credit: Camel Nuts

Camel Nuts’ journey to becoming Singapore’s leading nut manufacturer has been marked by impressive statistics and accolades. From its inception, the company has been focused on delivering the highest quality nuts to its consumers.

Our sales and revenue have seen significant increases, and our strong market presence is evident through a broad distribution network both domestically and internationally.

– Poh Shih Yin, director of Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff

This presence is solidified by the brand’s expansion into an impressive 20 countries, with a lofty goal of expanding into 50 countries within the next five years.

Although breaking the confines of a domestic market can be a daunting endeavour, Camel Nuts’ participation in the Enterprise Singapore Scale Up Program has helped ease their international expansion efforts.

As part of the program, Camel Nuts worked with McKinsey consultants who provided valuable insights and expertise.

The collaboration was more than just consultation — it involved meticulous market research, sizing exercises, and consumer surveys. Armed with a deep understanding of new markets, Camel Nuts crafted a tailored approach to conquer international territories.

seng hua hng camel nuts enterprise 50 awards
Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff is one of the recipients of the Enterprise 50 Awards in 2019 / Image Credit: Camel Nuts

The recognition bestowed upon Camel Nuts is not only limited to its international footprint, but also resonates on the local front. The brand’s commitment to excellence has been acknowledged through consecutive Enterprise 50 Awards in 2018 and 2019, a prestigious honour jointly organised by KPMG in Singapore and The Business Times.

Central to Camel Nuts’ expansion strategy is its unwavering focus on quality and innovation. Shih Yin notes, “We strategically assess markets where our high-quality nuts can add value and stand out among competitors.”

This discerning approach has guided the brand’s journey into new territories. Shih Yin also emphasises the importance of customer feedback and testimonials, which play a pivotal role in tailoring the brand’s approach to align with consumer preferences.

This attentiveness to market demands, coupled with a commitment to building a strong brand image, allows Camel Nuts to stay ahead of emerging trends and effectively adapt its product offerings to cater to diverse audiences.

Camel Nuts’ recognition as a “Made with Passion” brand is a testament to the brand’s dedication to excellence and its commitment to delivering superior products.

Our commitment to maintaining top-notch quality is at the core of our brand identity. We never compromise on the quality of our products for the sake of lower prices or higher profits.

Instead, we focus on sourcing the finest ingredients and paying meticulous attention to every aspect of our production process.

– Poh Shih Yin, director of Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff

One unique aspect that sets Camel Nuts apart is its decision to maintain its production facility in Singapore, even amid cost pressures and considerations of moving to neighbouring countries.

Shih Yin explains that being “Made in Singapore” is more than a label — it embodies trustworthiness and quality that align with the brand’s values. By keeping production in Singapore, Camel Nuts can uphold stringent quality control and the trust that consumers place in their products.

A commitment to consistency

camel nuts manufacturing
Camel Nuts uphold a strong commitment to product quality / Image Credit: Camel Nuts

At the core of Camel Nuts’ success lies an unwavering commitment to consistency in product quality. Shih Yin shared that from its humble beginnings, the brand recognised the paramount importance of delivering nuts of the highest quality.

This dedication was a game-changer, creating a foundation of customer trust and loyalty that continues to flourish. In a market teeming with options, Camel Nuts’ steadfast focus on product freshness and taste set it apart, resulting in positive word-of-mouth marketing and essential collaborations with key retailers and distributors.

Furthermore, the food industry is a dynamic landscape, with consumer preferences shifting rapidly. Collaboration in particular, has been a cornerstone of Camel Nuts’ innovation strategy.

By partnering with institutions of higher learning (IHLs), the brand taps into the creativity and insights of young minds that influence emerging food trends. This approach ensures that Camel Nuts not only embraces current consumer preferences, but anticipates future demands.

The collaboration with IHLs serves as a bridge between generations, a way to infuse fresh ideas into the brand’s product development.

When asked about the future of Camel Nuts, Shih Yin’s passion for innovation and growth was palpable. With a keen eye on consumer demand for healthier and sustainable options, the brand aims to expand its product range to include a wider variety of nutritious snacks. This expansion is underpinned by a commitment to sourcing the finest ingredients from around the world and aligning with evolving marketing trends.

Ultimately, Shih Yin’s vision for Camel Nuts is not just about offering healthy and sustainable snacks, but also about inspiring positive change within the industry.

The brand envisions a world where snacking is not just indulgent but also smart, healthy, and guilt-free. As the snack industry continues to evolve, Camel Nuts is set to remain a beacon of excellence, shaping the future of snacking one nutritious bite at a time.

Featured Image Credit: Camel Nuts

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