SOME firms might resent the effort required to meet globally acceptable standards but for one local noodle maker, it presented a golden opportunity to remake the business.
That transformation was a long time coming for Tan Seng Kee Foods (TSK). The company has evolved from a family business founded in 1936 by Mr Tan Gim Kang, who started making noodles by hand from a Neil Road shophouse for immigrants from southern China.
The next stage of the business came in 1975 when Mr Tan's son Kim Soon and his grandson Raymond incorporated the business as a sole proprietorship while retaining the traditional recipes.
In 2003, they had to move from their Aljunied premises. That was the catalyst for Mr Raymond Tan to modernise the business.
The new, fully automated Bedok North factory unit was planned and renovated to meet the standards of what is called the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), which implements a systematic approach to ensure food safety.
The business attained its HACCP certification in 2006, the first fresh noodle manufacturer in Singapore to do so.
In the same year, it became a private limited company and renamed itself Tan Seng Kee Foods.
TSK has since expanded its Bedok North premises to three factory units and supplies wet markets, hawkers, food services and supermarkets.Mr Raymond Tan and his sister Annie run the company, which has 40 employees.
Getting staff to focus on food safety and hygiene was the most challenging aspect of remaking the firm, said Mr Tan, adding: "Old-timers used to doing things the old way initially refused to wear uniforms, let alone production gear such as hair caps."
In the light of recent global food scares, the HACCP certification gives TSK a marketing advantage over its competitors. Customers have peace of mind, Mr Tan said, particularly institutional caterers, which handle high volumes of food ingredients.
The certification has also paid off in other ways such as in developing new products.
The company's Kang Kang range of pasteurised fresh rice- and wheat-based noodles was launched in 2010 after two years of research and development.
The preservative-free products have an extended shelf-life of over two weeks compared with two to four days for fresh noodles sold at wet markets.
Having the HACCP certificate also gives potential customers overseas more confidence. TSK is developing its business-to-business market in the Middle East and exploring export leads for Kang Kang in Asia.
In 2011, the company attained the Business Continuity Management (BCM) certification.
BCM helps firms build resilience and capabilities to effectively respond to disruptions.
TSK assesses every department for its emergency responsiveness, a process Ms Tan likened to a "health check or stock-taking of our internal systems".
Mr Tan said: "Local fresh noodles is an important part of our culture, which we aspire to bring to the international stage and do Singapore proud."
The resulting contingency plan includes the use of information technology systems. The company relies heavily on this for processes such as ordering and invoicing. It has implemented daily data back-ups with off-site systems that can be activated to minimise disruptions if an on-site breakdown occurs.
Mr Tan said: "For SMEs like us, having international standards is about building a good foundation and platform."