Dried seafood has long been a key ingredient in Chinese cuisine and tonics. Hong Kong’s love of seafood stems from its early days as a fishing village, and in more recent times its role as an entrepot. The dried seafood business has thrived through the decades, and even today, for what is a very traditional industry, thousands of dried seafood stores continue to do a roaring trade all over the SAR, with the main cluster being in Sheung Wan.
A family tradition
Hai Sang Hong Marine Foodstuffs Limited was established in 1973 by So Kit Hoi, who is Chairman of the Hong Kong Dried Sea Food & Grocery Merchants Association, and his brothers. But the company’s involvement in the seafood business dates back even further.
“My grandfather traded mainly salted fish during his lifetime,” explained Kenneth So, who joined the family business in 2010. “He got his supplies from Nam Pak Hong, but my father and uncles discovered there was a strong demand for dried seafood, so they decided to specialized in dried seafood with the establishment of Hai Sang Hong over 40 years ago. Now I run the business jointly with my cousin, so we are still very much a family business.”
Hai Sang Hong started out selling everyday dried seafood, such as dried squid and shrimps. In the 1980s, as people’s appetites for more luxurious seafood increased along with their purchasing power, dried abalone, sea cucumbers and fish maw were eagerly snapped up. Seeing demand soar, Hai Sang Hong started to specialize in trading luxury marine food products. When Kenneth joined the business in 2010, he expanded into frozen and canned seafood.
Today, Hai Sang Hong is one of the leading retailers, wholesalers, importers and exporters of marine foodstuffs in Hong Kong. It imports directly mainly from the United States, Canada and South Africa, which are famous for its clean oceans and quality seafood. Its clients include restaurant groups, hotels, airlines, theme park, supermarkets, cruise liners and department stores in Hong Kong, Macao and the Mainland.
Formula for success
So said he always bears two key things in mind when running the business: best service quality and follow market trends.
He accomplishes this by having his own chilled, frozen and dried seafood warehouses in Hong Kong, which replenish the company’s fleet of trucks that deliver to his customers every day. He also offers tailor-made services, such as preparing seafood according to his customers’ requests for various levels of salt and seasoning.
The main challenge for So today is finding new breakthroughs in this traditional industry. He said one major breakthrough was modernizing the company’s operations.
“After I took over the business, I computerized everything, from the supply to processing, storage, retail, etc, and also gave our products and company a fresh new look,” he said. “It is not enough to simply provide good service and products in business today. Marketing yourself and products to appeal to customers is also important.”
Sustainability of the industry
With increased public awareness about overfishing and the strain on our oceans, the sustainability of the environment directly impacts the dried seafood industry. The sharp drop in demand for shark’s fin is a sign that consumers’ consciences and tastes are changing. So said people still want to have a taste of luxury ingredients, but are shifting from shark’s fin to abalone and fish maw – Hai Sang Hong’s best selling items – which is boosting his business.
So said Hai Sang Hong is well-known within the industry, but less so among the public. Therefore, one of his key projects is to make the brand more widely known, which he is aiming to accomplish by sharing his knowledge about preparing, cooking and enjoying dried seafood.
Apart from the usual brand building practices, such as employing social media platforms and the internet, So wants people to be more hands on with his dried seafood products.
“Education is all the more important now. Many people enjoy eating dried seafood, but fewer and fewer people know how to handle and prepare the ingredients properly. You need to know these skills and techniques to get the most out of the ingredients,” he said.
As part of this, he regularly organizes cooking classes for the public, and teaches them different ways of preparing and cooking ingredients to make the best dishes.
“Besides ensuring these skills and knowledge are handed down, it is also a good way to inform the public about the industry and make our brand more widely known,” he added.
Long term plan
For the long term, So is optimistic about the industry’s future. He believes dried seafood will continue to be a key part of Chinese cuisine and demand will grow. He plans to expand his net of suppliers to provide his customers with a greater choice, and also has his eye on working more closely with hotels and casinos in Macao to serve growing demand there.
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