Open Since 1926: How S’pore Pastry Biz Polar Survived Crises Like WW2, SARS, COVID-19

Open Since 1926: How S’pore Pastry Biz Polar Survived Crises

In near a century, homegrown pastry franchise Polar Puffs and Desserts has solely shut its doorways as soon as.

The pastry enterprise has remained open by worldwide crises, together with the Japanese Occupation (1942 to 1945) and the SARS epidemic (2002 to 2004). The Covid-19 outbreak isn’t any exception.

Stores have been closed, desserts have been banned, and manufacturing was minimize 80 to 90 per cent, says Francis Looi, CEO of Polar Puffs and Desserts.

Nonetheless, the model nonetheless remained open in a number of of the 165-odd comfort shops it’s present in throughout Singapore, serving healthcare staff at hospitals like Singapore Normal Hospital and Thompson Medical.

“We have been blessed. We by no means had an impediment so dangerous that we wanted to close down,” he remarks.

Picture Credit score: SingHealth

There was additionally no retrenchment train or pay minimize, with staff receiving a full wage even after they have been banned from working.

The model was additionally the primary to implement a pay-it-forward scheme and carried out particular reductions for healthcare staff though they needed to dip into reserves.

“(We) projected a lack of one to 2 million, nevertheless it was a no brainer,” he says merely.

It Solely Closed As soon as Over The Years

Polar has undergone a sequence of transformations since its inception in 1926.

Initially named Polar Cafe, the primary Polar store was run by Hong Kong immigrant Chan Hinky, which was positioned in the course of Singapore’s bustling city-centre Excessive Avenue.

Polar Cafe rapidly grew in reputation among the many expat and white-collared staff within the space, stocking every thing from its iconic puffs and pastries to milkshake bars and carbonated drinks.

polar cafe singaporePicture Credit score: Ghetto Singapore

The one time Polar ceased operations in near a century, was when it was evicted to make approach for brand new developments in 1986.

“Polar was hijacked by modernisation, regardless of surviving a battle,” says Francis, laughing.

The pastry store quickly reopened at a brand new outlet within the UOB Centre at Raffles Place a couple of months later, and the corporate’s turnover hit S$1.6 million in 1987.

From Colonial Relic To Trendy Enterprise

Regardless of the reopening, development had slowed to a standstill between the 1970s and 1980s.

“We have been nonetheless caught within the older period, plodding alongside and simply making ends meet,” Francis elaborates.

To show issues round, Polar shifted from a restaurant to a takeaway mannequin, getting into a partnership with Exxon Cell in 1997.

This allowed the model to broaden from a single storefront to a number of distribution factors at comfort retailer counters in Esso Service Stations islandwide.

On the identical time, Polar expanded its retail community into a number of malls round Singapore, which elevated its distribution community and publicity to the general public.

As we speak, the model has expanded to over 190 areas in Singapore — 33 are stores that promote on to client in malls, and roughly 165 shops are a part of partnerships with companies.

This consists of working with resellers, mother and pop shops, colleges and comfort shops like Shell and Cheers.

Depite Covid-19, Polar is actively increasing with plans to maneuver into mother and pop retailers as avenues for last-mile supply. Kitchen areas will likely be used to bake and ship Polar pastries.

Proud To Be A Heritage Model Of S’pore

By 1998, Polar Cafe shed its cafe idea and rebranded itself into Polar Puffs and Desserts.

In 2005, Polar was even named a heritage model and was recognised as a “superbrand” in Singapore the next yr.

“(Polar pastries) have been shared from mother or father to little one. It’s widespread, however unusual sufficient that it’s Polar when you eat it,” says Francis.

Polar’s most iconic pastry is its curry puff, which received the title of Singapore’s greatest curry puff in 2015.

A secret recipe handed down by generations, the Polar curry puff is beloved for its French-style pastry that’s buttery and flaky, fused with a historically Asian filling.

Polar Curry PuffPicture Credit score: Capita Land

Whereas Polar merchandise are immediately recognisable, they’re capable of evolve with each technology.

Francis makes a legitimate level when he says that Polar doesn’t appear to age: “If I didn’t inform you Polar is 94 years outdated, you wouldn’t suppose it. Folks assume that Outdated Chang Kee is older, however that’s not true.”

He provides that the model is large on R&D efforts.

Each day, Francis conducts three retailer visits to taste-test Polar pastries. In the identical vein, the complete Polar employees survey over 10 new Polar creations each two weeks.

“It’s important to actually love desserts and meals to be in Polar,” Francis remarks.

In 2006, Polar was reported to have over 100 kinds of pastries and desserts.

Francis recounts being pitched merchandise that embrace century egg cheese cake, kinds of mala, salted egg, hae bee hiam pastries, and over 12 several types of mooncake.

Conserving Up With The Instances

Nonetheless, it’s not sufficient to simply bake scrumptious pastries. They need to be “built-in into the neighborhood,” notes Francis.

He provides that the model is large on customer support. Since 2013, Polar is likely one of the few F&B manufacturers in Singapore to institute a return and refund coverage for its merchandise.

angry bird cake polarOffended Hen cake / Picture Credit score: Polar Puffs & Desserts

Polar additionally has the most important vary of licensed character desserts in Singapore. This consists of collaborations with every thing from Marvel, DC to Pixar, in addition to producing themed desserts which have Batman, the Sith Lord, and even Minions printed on them.

It’s undoubtedly a sensible method to seize a youthful demographic.

“We began the development (and) it (has) strengthened our place with households,” says Francis, including that the advertising and marketing technique additionally helps the Polar title dwell on throughout generations.

Maintaining with the instances, Polar has since gone digital and has a number of advertising and marketing campaigns deliberate for subsequent six months.

For one, Polar will likely be launching a digital competitors for dwelling cooks, with an opportunity to have their creations featured and bought below the Polar model in the event that they win the problem.

The Stewardship Of The Chan Hinky’s

Polar presently bakes over eight million pastries yearly, and generates as much as S$35 million in income.

“That’s nonetheless a small quantity,” says Francis.

“We have now to develop (additional). We have now a dedication to enhance our wages and the lives of our colleagues, particularly as extra of them are older employees (so) insurance coverage and medical care will likely be excessive.”

polar puffs and cakes staffPicture Credit score: Polar Puffs & Desserts

In response to Francis, Polar continually brings in new blood however over 40 to 60 per cent of its work pressure are middle-aged.

With out a retirement program, the model takes into particular consideration the wants and considerations of its crew.

At the moment, Francis acts because the self-described steward of the third technology of the Chan Hinky household, who nonetheless sits on the board as shareholders.

He shares that the model is guided by three ideas: “Run Polar as greatest as you possibly can, hold it a household, and worth the merchandise for most of the people.”

In accordance together with his directives, Francis has launched a wage system that pegs the CEO’s wage to the bottom paid within the firm, which he hopes to extend to not less than S$2,500 a month.

Through the years, Polar has remained open by World Conflict 2, SARS, and even COVID-19. It doesn’t plan to interrupt its streak anytime quickly.

“We’re intertwined with Singapore’s consuming tradition,” says Francis. “We could also be ‘invisible’, however we’re there.”

Featured Picture Credit score: Capitaland / Polar Puffs & Desserts

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