At just 25 years old, George Quek and his then-girlfriend (now wife), Katherine Lee, made a pivotal decision to leave for Taiwan — but little did they know that this decision would spark his entrepreneurial spirit, leading him to establish one of Singapore’s largest food empires.
The couple’s entrepreneurial journey begun with a humble kiosk along the streets of Taipei, where they sold traditional Dragon’s Beard candy.
Following a successful 11-year run in Taiwan – during which they started several thriving F&B stores in the food courts of department stores – George and Katherine decided to return to Singapore to spend more time with George’s ageing parents.
However, their entrepreneurial journey was far from over. In Singapore, George founded food court chain Food Junction in 1993, which expanded and spread to Malaysia.
Seven years later, the entrepreneur couple made another foray into bakeries with BreadTalk Group, which is now one of Singapore’s foremost brands. In addition to its renowned bakery, the company boasts a diverse portfolio encompassing various F&B concepts including direct owned brands such as BreadTalk, Toast Box, Food Republic, Food Junction, Butter Bean, Sō Ramen, Thye Moh Chan and partner brands such as Din Tai Fung and Wu Pao Chun Bakery.
Today, George and Katherine are joined by their son, Jonathan Quek, who has become an integral part of the company’s success.
Steering the direction of the Group’s Bakery division
Jonathan joined BreadTalk Group in 2020, right after completing his Master’s in real estate.
The 28-year-old initially served as an Executive in the BreadTalk Bakery division, where he spent most of his days in its central kitchen and outlets undergoing training in the company’s operations.
Today, Jonathan has risen to the position of Managing Director, playing a critical role in steering the strategic direction of the company’s Bakery division. His primary focus lies in driving growth and profitability, while also staying attuned to market trends and customer demands to ensure the division’s continued success.
In addition to his role within the Bakery division, Jonathan is also part of the Investment Committee and Board of BreadTalk Group, where he contributes to strategic decision making of BreadTalk Group’s portfolio of brands.
Navigating the Group through COVID-19
Having joined BreadTalk Group in the thick of the pandemic, Jonathan shared that there were a few challenges the company faced, including poor sales and high attrition rates.
With most of its outlets strategically located at high footfall areas such as entrances of malls as well as MRT and bus interchanges, the bakery chain saw a dramatic drop in sales as Singapore went through various phases of lockdown measures.
Even when the lockdowns were lifted, most of its usual crowd either stayed home or were redirected to other areas, bypassing BreadTalk Group’s outlets.
“Thefluctuating dine-in restrictions also meant unsteady sales [for the company],” said Jonathan.
Although the government’s Jobs Support Scheme and rental rebates from landlords helped, Jonathan shared that these incentives weren’t enough to sustain the business throughout the crisis. In fact, it was in the red as the Group operated in many territories, where there was little to no government support.
As such, much of BreadTalk Group’s funds were sent abroad to ensure continued operations. The company had to undergo stringent cost control measures such as hiring freezes and no-pay leaves to stay afloat, which in turn, resulted in higher attrition.
Bouncing back from the pandemic with innovation and agility
True to its motto — “求新 求变 求差异”, which means “seeking innovation, seeking change, seeking difference” — the company was quick to adapt to the disruption brought about by the pandemic.
For one, the bakery chain partnered food delivery platforms and launched an e-commerce store almost overnight to ensure that its offerings remained accessible to consumers.
Going beyond digital channels, BreadTalk Group also deployed vans, aptly called the “Flosssmobile” and the “Toast Box Kopi Van” that went around HDB estates and private residences to bring its goods and services to the doorsteps of its customers.
To attract a wider base of consumers, Jonathan led the brand rejuvenation initiatives for BreadTalk Group over the past three years, spanning across various verticals, including branding, production, innovation, as well as revamping store concepts.
On the innovation front, the company constantly looked out for ways to pique the interest of consumers, all while adhering to the lockdown restrictions. For instance, when cake sales were not allowed back in 2020, BreadTalk Group put out various breads that its customers could instead purchase to commemorate special events, such as its Mother’s Day bread cake.
Meanwhile, to strengthen its brand identity during the pandemic, the bakery chain introduced a new mascot, Song Song, a cartoon character inspired by its signature Flosss Bun.
“[We launched] the mascot to serve as a visual representation of our brand and to cultivate a strong and memorable identity that resonates with customers,” explained Jonathan.
BreadTalk Group has close to 700 stores worldwide
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the bakery chain has achieved remarkable growth and performance. Even with a lesser store count, the company has managed to outperform pre-pandemic levels through its consolidation efforts and stronger financial discipline.
Today, BreadTalk Group, which is celebrating its 23rd anniversary this month, has a presence in 15 markets and close to 700 stores worldwide, with the Bakery division contributing to over 85 per cent of its store count.
Although the worst of the pandemic is over, the brand still continues to reinvent itself 23 years on with new offerings and store concepts that meet the evolving needs and preferences of its customers.
Jonathan takes up a similar strategy when it comes to managing and growing the F&B brands under BreadTalk Group. The company effectively “blends tradition and innovation” when it comes to these distinct brands, providing Singaporeans with a diverse range of experiences.
The company’s teams have also incrementally grown in size since the pandemic. BreadTalk Group has taken up extra steps to support its employees’ career progression with initiatives such as leadership training, to ensure their growth and satisfaction while driving the overall success of its organisation.
Strengthening BreadTalk’s position in the global bakery scene
As the company enters its 24th year, Jonathan envisions that the company will continue to play a pivotal roles in the bakery and F&B industry.
In the coming years, BreadTalk Group will focus on further strengthening its position in the global bakery scene by expanding its presence to markets such as Thailand and China. As part of this expansion, the brand will embrace the local preferences and adapt its offerings to suit the diverse culinary cultures across these markets.
On the technological front, BreadTalk Group is looking to enhance the automation of its central kitchen, and its operational efficiency to elevate its customer experience. This includes streamlining its production processes and implementing digital solutions for seamless ordering and delivery.
Featured Image Credit: BreadTalk
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