Tuck Lee Ice
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Tuck Lee Ice is an ice manufacturer and provider of related services such as ice sculpturing. Founded in 1957, the company has also diversified into beverage distribution and transport services for temperature-sensitive items.
The company was founded in 1957 when Hauw Kiat, an immigrant from China, purchased an ice works on Outram Road. The ice works supplied coffee shops and markets under the name of Tuck Lee, and Hauw retained the name for his company. The factory was soon moved to Leng Kee Road, and when Hauw died in 1961, the business passed to his son Hauw Sing King.
After Sing King’s death in 1983, Tuck Lee came under the control of his son Hauw Wee, who joined the family business at the age of 24 after working at an electrical and leasing firm. He did not immediately seek to expand the business, focusing on other investments before shifting his full attention to Tuck Lee in 1993.
In the 1990s, the business had changed little from when Hauw Kiat had first purchased the ice works, and still utilised the old methods of producing, transporting and selling ice. In a cold room, water was frozen in metal containers and hauled out as large blocks of ice via a pulley system, before being cut into various sizes with iron saws. The ice blocks were then insulated with a coating of sawdust, and covered with canvas during their transportation to customers by lorry. The ice was then delivered in gunny sacks to customers, who often received the ice in an unhygienic state.
Hauw recognised the disadvantages of the traditional methods of producing ice and sought to overhaul Tuck Lee’s production and delivery system. For a couple of years, he researched ice works in Europe, the United States and Australia, and returned with new ideas for the manufacture, presentation and delivery of ice. From 1993, Hauw purchased new machines that could make hygienic, food-grade ice in various shapes and sizes, such as tubes and cubes, crushed ice and ice designed for the local dessert ice kachang. He packed them in high quality plastic bags and also invested in refrigerated trucks known as reefer trucks to replace the delivery lorries. In addition, Hauw worked on the company’s branding by focusing on service, introducing a slogan for Tuck Lee and ensuring that all of its delivery trucks featured its logo.
There was initial resistance to Tuck Lee’s new ice products from customers such as coffee shop owners, who were used to buying large blocks of ice. Hauw eventually managed to persuade his customers of the advantages of his new food-grade ice, and the company’s shift to a more consumer-friendly model signaled changes in the wider industry. From 1995, Tuck Lee’s competitors also shifted from the traditional methods of making ice and upgraded their production facilities. The company continued to conduct research and development for innovations such as ice that melted at a slower pace than conventional products, and instituted quality standards such as reverse osmosis and ultraviolet filtering for the water used in its products.
Hauw continued to focus on improving Tuck Lee’s facilities and business model, and managed to break even on his investments in 2000. By that time, Tuck Lee produced around 160 tonnes of food-grade ice each day for supply to supermarkets, restaurants, nightspots and coffee shops. Another 60 tonnes of traditional ice blocks were also supplied to wet markets and fishery ports.
Diversification and business segments
In the 2000s, the supply of ice cubes for parties made up the main portion of Tuck Lee’s business, along with the company’s supplies to customers from the retail and food sectors including hawker centres, food and beverage outlets, convenience stores and petrol stations. Tuck Lee also became the leader in the market for ice supplies to nightspots - in 2007, the company delivered an estimated 1,000 bags of ice each night to Singapore’s nightclubs and pubs.
The company also spun off a number of new ventures related to its traditional business. Hauw Wee’s son Jeremy joined Tuck Lee in 2002 and introduced the company’s ice sculpting business, which services corporate events, weddings and parties. By 2009, the ice sculpture business made up between 10 per cent to 15 per cent of Tuck Lee’s business. Other areas which Tuck Lee diversified into include the distribution of beverages such as Archipelago beer and Fiji bottled water in 2006, and the provision of transport and logistics services for temperature-sensitive items. A move into the supply of convenience foods was unsuccessful however and the company withdrew from that business within two years.
By 2007, Tuck Lee had become the industry leader among Singapore’s ice manufacturers in terms of sales and distribution network, although fishery port ice supplier Jurong Ice Works was first by the volume of ice sold. As of 2011, Tuck Lee operates two factories, in Singapore and in Johor Bahru, with most of its products coming from the factory in Johor. The two factories have a production capacity of around 200 tonnes of ice daily and a total staff of around 80, up from a roster of six workers in the early 1980s. In 2010, the company recorded revenues of around S$9 million.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2012 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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