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Oishi Group eyes South African market

Oishi Group eyes South African market

SHANGHAI: Filipino-owned Liwayway Group of Companies, the company behind the Oishi brand, is set to make its first foray outside Asia as it continues to look for opportunities to grow its business.

In an interview with The STAR, Liwayway Group head of operations in China Larry Chan said the snack foods giant is eyeing to expand into South Africa that has a huge population of 54 million. Larry is the fourth son of Liwayway chairman Carlos Chan, the 75-year old Filipino-Chinese businessman who grew the business that his parents started.

“My father is looking into Africa,” said the younger Chan. He declined to divulge details on the plans and the timetable, but expressed optimism on the growth prospects of Africa especially for snack foods.

“It’s a huge market,” he said. Details are not yet available but expansion in Africa through the setting up of factories could happen soon, officials said. Here in China, the company continues to grow the business, maintaining the highest quality standards on the back of health issues that hounded Chinese products in the past.

“We have our own international standards and we continue to upgrade because China has recently tightened its health standards,” Chan said. In 2008, a milk scandal broke in China involving milk and instant formula and other food components being adulterated with melamine affecting 300,000 victims.

Now on its 23rd year in China, Liwayway continues to enjoy stable growth. “Growth has been very stable. That’s what’s good about snack foods. It’s stable. We’re not affected by political conditions,” Chan said. Asked about the impact of China’s slowing economy, Chan said it’s a restructuring of the economy rather than simply a slowing down.

“They are trying to push domestic consumption,” he said. Chan declined to provide sales figures but Forbes Philippines, citing a Euromonitor report, said Oishi’s market share is equivalent to annual retail sales of about $1 billion throughout the region in 2013.

Chan said the company would continue to strengthen operations and offer better products to the market. “We’re a very production focused company. It’s part of our interest and our passion to create products that are nutritious and substantial. We were among the first proponents of putting nutrition facts and ingredients declaration. We’re also promoting labelling,” he said.

This year, the company is targeting to bring in organic beverages to the Chinese market through a partner supplier from Canada. “We will get the materials from Canada. We’re looking at it this year,” Chan said.

If it succeeds, the company could also bring this product to the Philippines, he added. On the planned initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong, Chan said it will always be a good option but declined to elaborate on the details, saying there are regulatory restrictions. “It will always be a good option. You never know when you can really make use of public funding so even among us children, we’re not closing our doors on it,” Chan said.

Liwayway has more than 100 snack food and beverage products, at least 8,000 workers, more than 700 distributors and 16 plant in China. Aside from Shanghai, the company has snack-making plants in 14 other locations around China such as in Harbin near Mongolia and Xinjiang near Kazakhstan.

The Liwayway Group also has plants in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and India. In the Philippines, it has operations in Cavite, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Tarlac and Bohol.