Translated by WINNIE CHOOI
Sin Chew Daily
Sungai Siput, PERAK -- Innovation has been the keyword that has seen the evolution of the home-based Thong Thye Groundnuts Factory.into a corporatised household name of Pagoda groundnuts.
Having experienced 67 years of exceptional growth, Thong Thye has been transformed from a small wooden cottage operation to a sizeable plant occupying 2 acres of land in Sungai Siput and further to a massive 14-acre facility today.
In tandem with its marketing strategy, Thong Thye was renamed Pagoda Foods (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd last year.
The change of company name does not nevertheless affect the trademark of Pagoda, which has grown to international fame among many households here and abroad..
Stepping into the conference hall of Pagoda Menglembu Factory at Rimba Panjang, Sungai Siput, the Thong Thye signage is still seen hanging on top, along with a large portrait of the late founder Liu Qi Ying.
Seeking better life abroad back in the 1940s, Liu sailed southward from China to Malaya and had later worked as an apprentice at a grocery store, and been a vegetable farmer and fertiliser trader.
With his business aptitude, Liu eyed the promising prospects of the groundnut industry and set up a timber production plant in Sungai Siput in 1945.
Liu travelled all across Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong to promote his groundnuts. Domestic and international markets were developed, with initial packaging in large cans and later plastic packaging.
Liu started his business from scratch. His eldest son Liu Yu Shou and wife had been his most capable assistants until the couple were killed in a car accident. Liu's second son Liu Than Qing took over his business upon graduation from Singapore.
Second generation successor
After his father's death in 1972, Liu Than Qing set up a new plant and incorporated Thong Fook Plastic Industries Sdn Bhd. The new company has since opened up additional business opportunities to cater to the packaging of home-made peanuts.
The founder's third son San Da and fourth son Rui Xing were also involved in Thong Thye's management while the youngest son Rui Yu was in charge of Thong Fook and later Thong Thye in 2001
In 1975, Thong Fook's business was declining and Rui Yu was asked to come back from Singapore to help manage the company. Thanks to his effort, Thong Fook was finally back on the track of growth.
Due to an oversight for the domestic market, Thong Thye's market share in Malaysia plunged. Rui Yu acquired all the shares from his brothers and became the new owner of Thong Thye in 2001
In addition to his reputation in the business circle, Rui Yu has also been an active participant in social welfare activities. He has served as the chief treasurer of the Malaysian Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the deputy president of Perak Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
In view of the fact that fewer Malaysians are involved in groundnut plantation, Thong Thye set up a plantation and processing plant in Vietnam. The peanuts are then sent back to Sungai Siput for roasting and packaging.
Thong Thye's oversea markets include the UK, Australia, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, France, Italy, Canada, Middle East, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Third generation successor
Datuk Liu Rui Yu's son, 33-year-old You Jing, had worked at Thong Fook for two years before he took over as the chief executive of Pagoda Foods and Thong Thye Trading in 2008.
Besides, You Jing is also overseeing the operations of Pagoda Vietnam, and is a director of Thong Fook.
You Jing decided to rename Thong Thye as Pagoda Foods (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd last year to make the company more recognisable.
You Jing told Sin Chew Daily many young people were not aware of the manufacturer Thong Thye but the Pagoda brand, and the change of company name would give him more confidence to promote the products to broader markets.
Among the new marketing strategies now actively pursued by the young successor is product diversification. In addition to Pagoda Menglembu groundnuts, the company has also introduced other brands of groundnut products.
You Jing hopes the family business and entrepreneurial spirit could be passed down from generation to generation in appreciation of his late grandfather's efforts.
Menglembu has not come into the limelight because of groundnut production, but rather the meticulous processes of rinsing, boiling, sunning and roasting groundnuts to make them tastier and crunchier.
In order to ensure the crunchiness of the products, only freshly harvested nuts are used. The freshly harvested groundnuts are sent immediately for rinsing and then boiled in natural salt solution to retain their sweetness and aroma.
After that, the peanuts will be dried under the hot sun and then wood roasted for three days to ensure that the original aroma and crunchiness of the peanuts are preserved.