[SINGAPORE] It may have kept a low profile over the past couple of years but the company behind PastaMania has been quietly cooking up a recipe to transform itself into a food conglomerate, with a series of aggressive acquisitions in recent years.
By end-2015, the group will mark a milestone as it moves its operations, which are now spread across the island, to a spanking new S$70 million building located in Buroh Lane.
Andrew Kwan, the group managing director of Singapore-owned investment holding company Commonwealth Capital Pte Ltd, said in an interview with The Business Times that the firm has been expanding its food business to include food and beverage retail concepts, warehouse and logistics services, as well as manufacturing businesses, so as to whisk together an end-to-end business model.
Commonwealth Capital, which owns two-thirds of PastaMania, also holds shares in Swiss Bake, Swiss Treats, NYC Bagel Factory and seafood supplier Barramundi Asia.
In March this year, Commonwealth Capital invested in meat supplier Zac Meat & Poultry Pte Ltd for an "eight-digit" amount.
Mr Kwan, who was previously part of Globamatrix Holdings that dealt in solar films, said that the expansion was necessary for the group to introduce automation to its processes.
Highlighting Singapore's high rentals and labour crunch - which he describes as "clamps of death" - Mr Kwan said that the firm started looking to consolidate its operations in 2012, after it acquired Swiss Bake and Swiss Treats, as they had a small production space.
In June last year, their application was granted by JTC Corporation.
The new headquarters will house some 300 production staff and 100 non-production employees.
Much thought has been put into ensuring that the facility, which has a gross floor area of close to 300,000 square feet spread over six floors, will be effectively functional and efficient as it combines both food manufacturing and logistics.
"A lot of food production companies in Singapore would busy themselves with producing items from allocated factory floor.
"Thereafter, they would have to coordinate with a logistics company to pick it up because they cannot store (the items) and they would want to get it out once it is produced," he said.
But this often leads to frustrations when the production is late or the deliverymen are not on time.
The new building is designed according to workflow and will house the whole process - from integrated spaces for food production, to cold storage, chiller rooms, ambient warehouse, a research and development laboratory, training centres and offices.
But the icing on the cake is the group's investment in a German automatic storage and retrieval system (ASRS) within the cold warehouse that Mr Kwan said ran "in the high millions" of dollars.
"It is basically a storage system which allows you to pick up pallets of items automatically, all mechanised and then stored into this racking system that runs about 35 metres up.
"Because it is totally automated, we do not need any workers inside this warehouse, unlike a typical warehouse where you would find people operating forklifts, going in, going out."
With big money invested in such an advanced system comes ambitious plans.
Last year, the group generated S$80 million in revenue and the figure is projected to surpass S$100 million for financial year 2014.
Mr Kwan said that the group had in-principle approval to list here and also on overseas exchanges in 2005. They had explored doing so in Australia, Hong Kong and even Malaysia.
But Mr Kwan thinks the firm needs to be bigger.
"In my view, (the firm has to hit revenues of) at least S$250 million to S$300 million so that you can really swing with the boys over in markets like Malaysia, Japan and China."
Already, the group has 450 retail points in Singapore. It operates another 64 restaurants, of which 18 are overseas in countries such as Malaysia, China and the Middle East.
He noted that while the group is poised to expand further overseas, the move to get listed will also facilitate such plans.
"We really have not capitalised on the credibility that the Singapore government has built, to take it really internationally and globally.
"In our previous business, we were in some 31 countries and we had something like 1,200 franchisees around the world. We think we can do at least that, if not more, in the food space."
And doing more is exactly what Mr Kwan has in mind.
For the past six months, the company has been in talks with an international Swiss group comprising medical doctors on a joint-venture to develop functional foods - foods that are not just healthy but purposefully consumed, such as those that are cardio-friendly.
Discussions are also ongoing between the company and an Australian group "to offer convenient food that is highly nutritious".
Expressing excitement over these ideas which he described as "exportable", Mr Kwan said that the aim is to be able to deliver foods with high nutrition to the consumer's doorstep, without them having to cook.
He pointed out that there is a ready market and it is "as large as a quarter" of Singapore's population, but Mr Kwan added that these plans will take a bit more time to realise if they want to get it right.