Setting Its Sights On Further Growth

BreadTalk Group's focus on innovation and global expansion has been a recipe for its post-pandemic success.
Jonathan Quek, Managing Director of BreadTalk Group

As a child, Jonathan Quek and his siblings spent their weekends trailing their parents on site visits to various outlets of the F&B business they had founded. In 2000, George Quek and Katherine Lee started that enterprise, BreadTalk, with just one outlet in Singapore selling signature items such as their now-famous “Flosss” buns.

BreadTalk has since grown into a leading F&B group that is home to a stable of well-known brands, with around 660 outlets across 14 international markets in Asia, the Middle East and the U.K. The company directly owns brands such as BreadTalk, Toast Box and Food Republic, and the franchise rights for partner brands like Taiwanese restaurant chain Din Tai Fung in Singapore, Thailand and the U.K.

The Quek family holds a 74.9% stake in the BreadTalk Group through their investment firm, while Thai multinational Minor International owns the remaining 25.1%.

Quek’s early exposure to the family business laid the groundwork for his understanding of the industry’s dynamics. From his parents, he learnt the importance of paying attention to detail, engaging deeply with customers and being a hands-on manager.

After completing his higher education in London, Quek returned to Singapore amid the Covid-19 pandemic to join BreadTalk Group. “We saw that our parents were busy fighting the crisis, so it was natural for my siblings and me to come aboard to help out in any way we could,” says Quek, who is now 29 years old.

Despite being the bosses’ son, there was no corner office waiting for Quek when he started in 2020. Rather, his first job was at a suburban BreadTalk outlet where he handled everything from cashiering to serving customers. This on-the-ground experience was critical in helping him understand the day-to-day challenges of running the business.

Over the next two years, he rose up the company’s ranks to manage eight, then 40 stores. By 2023, he was promoted to Managing Director, overseeing the bakery division and its 160 outlets across Singapore and Thailand. Quek’s older sister, Joselle, heads the group’s R&D efforts, while his younger brother, Matthew, runs the restaurant division.

Quek’s management style during the pandemic highlighted his capacity to lead with compassion, as he focused on alleviating staff burdens and enhancing their job security and workplace conditions. He is also known for being approachable and responsive, qualities that have fostered a strong, collaborative environment in the teams he leads.

Emerging Stronger from Crisis

To deal with the fallout from the pandemic, the BreadTalk Group revitalized its product lineup by introducing items tailored to changing consumer preferences. The group also streamlined its operations by employing new technology to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

BreadTalk redesigned its store layouts at major shopping malls, including Westgate, NEX, Raffles City and Plaza Singapura, to enhance the customer experience, making them more modern and inviting to a younger audience.

Learning from its pandemic experience, the company also sought to reduce its reliance on the retail channel by introducing consumer products that are based on the group’s signature items such as kaya, coffee and cookies from its various brands. The products are sold at supermarkets or through e-commerce platforms.

These strategic adjustments, combined with a focused expansion in both existing and new markets while maintaining high standards of quality and consistency, propelled BreadTalk Group to register close to S$600 million (US$446 million) in revenue in 2023.

Looking ahead, the group has set its sights on an even more ambitious target of hitting S$1 billion (US$738 million) in revenue by 2029. “We are still mindful when it comes to expansion. We want to maintain that financial prudence, and be more selective in how we expand,” Quek says.

Food Republic, Din Tai Fung and Toast Box are among the brands under the BreadTalk Group.

Betting Big on Innovation

A big part of the BreadTalk Group’s success in recent years has boiled down to its pursuit of innovation across its operations. The group’s R&D efforts have introduced fusion products like the “Crookie,” a blend of a croissant and a cookie, capturing the fancy of Gen Z and millennial consumers. The R&D team continuously scouts for viral trends and popular flavors that resonate with a global audience and integrate these insights into their product
development process.

BreadTalk has also embraced technology to ramp up its productivity in the face of rising costs and a tight labor market. For instance, the group introduced new equipment at one of its production departments to increase its capacity. This centralized department now supplies to all BreadTalk outlets, improving quality and product consistency across all its stores, while reducing the brand’s reliance on manpower.

Catering to Local Tastes

To expand globally, BreadTalk Group employs a strategy that combines direct ownership and franchising to ensure that its core offerings remain consistent across all markets, while also adapting to local tastes. Singapore currently contributes the majority of the group’s revenue, with Greater China the next largest contributor.

Around 80% of the products offered in the group’s overseas markets are made up of its signature items, while the remaining 20% are dedicated to variations designed for local preferences. For instance, one of BreadTalk’s bestsellers in Thailand is a yam coconut bun, which combines fragrant Thai ingredients. Meanwhile, at Taiwanese eatery Din Tai Fung’s outlet in London, British beef is used in its signature dumplings. The U.K. restaurant also features a bar, which has proven to be popular among local patrons; alcoholic beverages now account for a significant proportion of its sales.

“We try to find ways to incorporate local ingredients into our products to cater to local tastes and celebrate the culture,” says Quek.

Expanding its Global Footprint

The BreadTalk Group continues to seek global expansion, with an eye on new markets such as North America and Australia, as well as accelerating growth in India. In its established markets, the group plans to add four to five Din Tai Fung restaurants in London, supplementing the existing three. The group also sees the potential for significant growth in Thailand and China.

To fund its expansion, BreadTalk may return to the equity markets via an initial public offering in the future. The company had initially listed on the Singapore Exchange in 2003, before privatizing in 2020.

The potential listing would provide the company with the financial resources it requires to accelerate its entry into new markets, fund innovation in product development and enhance the customer experience.

Says Quek: “We want to keep the momentum going, and raising capital from the markets is one way to help us expand quickly. Having different investors who have different experiences and backgrounds will also be helpful.”

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