In our ‘Taste of Singapore’ series, we examine iconic Singaporean brands that have stuck around long enough to earn a place in our kitchens and our hearts. In part 2, we move on to Chee Seng Sesame Oil—another homegrown brand that Singapore grew up with.
Whenever one thinks of sesame oil, the name Chee Seng always comes up. Indeed, for over 60 years, Chee Seng has been a household name in Singapore, with its place firmly staked in the hearts of Singaporeans.
But while it may be recognised for high quality sesame oil housed in its iconic angular bottles emblazoned with double pagodas, Chee Seng originally started out making coconut oil. In 1943, during the Japanese Occupation, there was a scarcity of edible oils and seeing this as an opportunity, Lim Tai Tin founded Chee Seng to produce coconut oil. However, Chee Seng Oil Factory soon changed its course to produce sesame oil in 1956. The switch to sesame oil production was spearheaded by his eldest son Lim Bong Hee, who strongly believed that it would help Chee Seng stay ahead of its competition.
Although there were over 10 companies manufacturing sesame oil at the time, Chee Seng was the only one that produced theirs using machinery and the latest technology. But while that certainly helped the company, it was a chance venture at a trade fair that gave the fledging company its shot at success.
Back in the day, trade fairs showcasing new products were a highlight at Singapore’s popular amusement parks. Chee Seng participated in one such trade fair and received such overwhelming response that they soon became a regular presence at all subsequent trade fairs. These fairs became the only places where customers could get their hands on Chee Seng’s wildly popular sesame oils, until a fateful day in 1959 when Mr Xiao from Yong Tin Kee provision shop, visited their booth. From that initial meeting, he began selling Chee Seng oil at his store. It remained the only permanent retail outlet selling their oil until many months later when Mr Leong, a sales representative at a cooking oil company, offered to help collect orders from provision shops while Chee Seng delivered the goods.
The rest, as they say, is history. Chee Seng Sesame Oil became a familiar sight in kitchens around the island. To this day, it remains a well-loved Singapore brand. Not long after, Chee Seng began exporting its sesame oil to Europe. Despite its international acclaim and success at home, Chee Seng remains a family-run Singapore company. The business is now helmed by Lim Bong Hee’s sons, Kay Guan and Kay Kheng, who continue to build on its 60 years of rich history.
Today, Chee Seng is the No.1 selling sesame oil brand in Singapore. Moving forward, Chee Seng aims to increase its presence on the global front through strong distribution, product innovation as well as quality improvement.
This post is brought to you in partnership with Chee Seng Sesame Oil. For more information, please visit Chee Seng’s website or Facebook page.
Cover: Chee Seng’s booth at a trade fair in the early days
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s July 2017 issue – Love Singapore, ‘Singapore Brands’.