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Ministry of Food eyes 10,000 outlets in China

3 September 2009 1,386 views No Comment

SINGAPORE entrepreneur Lena Sim, founder and owner of the Ministry of Food (MOF) restaurant chain, is setting up 300 outlets in China – and that’s only for starters. MOF could eventually open up to 10,000 outlets there.

The first 300 outlets – based on MOF’s concepts that cover Japanese, Chinese and European cuisine, desserts and beverages – are expected to open in cities across China within three years.

 
And that’s just to test the market. Ms Sim is upbeat about ‘making it’ there and opening thousands more outlets later.

‘China is a black hole with the greatest market potential for any good brand to expand at a rate nobody can imagine,’ she says. ‘Our food always focuses on health – no MSG, chemicals, preservatives, artificial colourings or flavours. And given rising concern of the quality of food in China, we are well-placed to stand out from other food concepts.’

MOF’s food offerings are also mostly mid-priced, which suits the Chinese market nicely.

The company expects to open its first Chinese outlet – costing $1.5 million – in Beijing before Christmas. It is also working overtime to set up a central kitchen in the Chinese capital to support the aggressive expansion elsewhere in the country. ‘The central kitchen is the heart of any food and beverage set-up,’ Ms Sim says.

To nail down the number of outlets that MOF will open eventually, she is taking a cue from Japanese noodle restaurant chain Ajisan Ramen.

‘If Ajisan Ramen can target 1,000 outlets, we see huge potential for MOF as well,’ she says. ‘We will easily have 1,000 outlets for each MOF mid-priced concept after some fine-tuning, localising the food and proving our concepts work.’

MOF has about 10 food concepts, which works out to about 10,000 outlets overall.

Ms Sim says that the money pumped into the outlets will vary according to the city and type of outlets. But the average cost per outlet is estimated at $400,000 – which means a total investment exceeding $100 million.

Ms Sim is teaming up with a prominent Singaporean real estate player and a giant Chinese retail chain to break into the market, with her holding a majority stake. The two partners want to remain unnamed for now.

She says that MOF is leveragaing on its Chinese partner, which owns ‘thousands of malls, supermarts, hypermarts in China’. ‘Hence it is sensible for us to have presence in every mall they have.’

MOF opened its first outlet in Singapore three years ago. It now has nine restaurants here, with more in the pipeline. It also has a presence in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

By CHUANG PECK MING

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