#MarketingExcellenceAwards spills: Behind the scenes of Shi Hui Yuan's brand transformation


Taking home the silver award for Excellence in Marketing Transformation and bronze award for Excellence in Shopper Marketing at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Marketing Excellence Awards 2020 is F&B company Shi Hui Yuan. 

With humble origins as a hawker stall at Mei Ling Market in 1969, the brand had to pivot its marketing strategies with the pandemic hitting the F&B industry hard in 2020. The brand not only embraced digital marketing solutions, placing a greater emphasis and the bulk of its marketing budget on it, it also transformed the brand while retaining its traditional roots.  

We speak to Wilson Lim, business head, Shi Hui Yuan, about the thought process behind the award-winning brand transformation, what the brand focuses on when it comes to its marketing strategies, and its expansion plans in 2021.

What are some of the expectations your consumers now have for your brand?

Shi Hui Yuan being awarded Michelin Bib Gourmand for the fourth consecutive year running in 2019 was considered to be of no mean feat, with only a handful of F&B brands receiving this accolade. As we continue to grow and scale, we must continuously uphold the good reputation we have among our customers by ensuring that the standards of our food remain consistent throughout. The Marketing Excellence Award recognition further fuels the Shi Hui Yuan's brand profile and reputation.

Innovation is also a key driver that we are focusing on. Consumer preferences are always constantly changing and we must be at the forefront of food preferences adaptation to catch any upcoming trends, while at the same time still maintaining true to our heritage food. We have recognised that consumers are growing more comfortable in trying alternative meat products, fueled by existing partnerships certain brands have formed with mass market fast food players. We introduced a new dish that incorporates plant-based ingredients into our existing Hor Fun dishes early this year - Plant-Based Giant Wanton Hor Fun - which was well received by our existing & new customers.

In the pipeline are more exciting plant-based dishes that amalgamates well with our Michelin Bib Gourmand heritage braised sauce. This creates a new niche for Shi Hui Yuan to attract the discerning millennials.

How has your marketing/your clients marketing plans shifted this year?

With the pandemic hitting F&B industry hard and circuit breaker measures in place, we pivoted towards digital marketing solutions, placing a greater emphasis and the bulk of our marketing budget on it. We aggressively built our online branding from scratch, tied up with delivery platforms on last-mile marketing and promotions as well as engaged in paid advertising on social media platforms.

The ever-changing situation of the pandemic has also led the team to constantly think on our feet and tailor our marketing solutions accordingly. When the Circuit Breaker was lifted and more people started dining in, we had to be aggressive to retain customers in a competitive F&B environment.

We adopted best e-commerce practices and put it towards our local store marketing context, churning out promotions like “in-store flash deals” and “2nd bowl at 50% off” to entice higher in-store sales revenue.

Loyalty is also another aspect that we focused on, introducing gamification aspects in our loyalty cards to drive repeat purchases. We want to be able to attract new customers, retain our existing customers, and reward the most loyal and advocating customers.

While these pivots were initially tricky - given that Shi Hui Yuan is traditionally brick and mortar with no digital presence - it has proved to be beneficial in providing omnichannel marketing solutions, as well as inculcating a precious mindset in our team - to think beyond the four walls of traditional F&B marketing.

What are some of the trends you see carrying on post-pandemic, and how are you readying your workforce to be ready with these trends?

One of the most evident trends post-pandemic is the growing market of food delivery, surging during the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker period in Singapore. We saw this as an opportunity to launch our first virtual brand - Tubby Belly, in July 2020, available then only on major delivery platforms. The launch of this new brand allowed us to expand our presence into the food delivery market while diversifying our revenue streams. With rising rental costs, creating virtual brands out of existing locations will also allow us to manage costs by maximising sales per square foot.

The F&B industry in Singapore is also facing growing uncertainties in terms of increased labour costs, as well as the reduction of workforce availability. We will have to constantly look for innovative ways to control costs, and possibly increase the productivity of each and every worker.

As such, it is a constant pressure for F&B brands to progressively introduce suitable technology into our setup, with the aim of improving productivity & ensuring that the food quality is consistently maintained. Another factor that we are focusing on is to continually upskill our current workforce, introducing them to newer ways of working and allowing them to slowly embrace the digital age. In our setup, we have successfully trained our staff to be proficient in handling delivery devices, as well as taking advance orders via WhatsApp. Next, we have also training plans in place to enable them to be more comfortable with PCs & laptops, allowing them to tap onto various technologies to be more efficient. When available, we will also be adopting a more flexible work arrangement for our staff to work from an environment whereby they are more comfortable and efficient.

How are you planning for 2021?

We anticipate a challenging business climate moving into 2021. However, there are still opportunities abound within this difficult environment. The team will be making use of this “downturn” to strategically plan and select viable real estate sites with the goal of scaling up Shi Hui Yuan to ready the brand for an “upturn”.

We will be steadily growing our brand and expanding our footprint island-wide moving into 2021. By the mid of next year, we will bring our food closer than ever to Singaporeans, with at least one store in the North, South, East & West regions of Singapore, increasing our store count to over 10 outlets within 12 months of business expansion.

We will also continue with our vision to provide quality and value food to all Singaporeans, whilst at the same time, continually revising and adapting our business models to changing market conditions.

One of the major menu introductions we did in 2020 was the introduction of plant-based ingredients into our menu lineup. We foresee that the market for plant-based food will continue to grow, and we will place a greater emphasis on product innovation and development of new plant-based dishes to blend into our famous Michelin Bib Gourmand herbal braised Hor Fun.