PEOPLE

Focusing on the brand's essence

Cerebos Pacific group chief executive Gen Saito says Brand's Essence of Chicken is still an unpolished jewel. He wants to identify the science behind its benefits and make it more relevant to consumers.
Cerebos Pacific group chief executive Gen Saito says Brand's Essence of Chicken is still an unpolished jewel. He wants to identify the science behind its benefits and make it more relevant to consumers.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Cerebos Pacific head wants to get more out of its flagship product

Updated June 30, 2015

BRAND'S Essence of Chicken is a household name in Singapore and the man heading the company intends to keep it that way.

Cerebos Pacific group chief executive Gen Saito, who hails from Japan, took the helm a year ago and is gearing up to mark the 180th anniversary of its most famous product this year.

"Most people do not know that Brand's Chicken Essence was actually created in the British royal kitchen," he says.

In the early 19th century, royal chef H.W. Brand made a nourishing broth that could be easily digested for King George IV when he was ill.

After retiring from royal service in 1835, Mr Brand made the product commercially available.

Brand’s health supplement products accounts for approximately 60 per cent, or $588.6 million, of Cerebos Pacific’s overall revenue last year.

While the product may seem simple, Mr Saito, 55, wants to identify more of the science behind its benefits.

"It's still an unpolished jewel," he says.

"Many people know it's good for your cognition and memory. My attempt is to put more science behind the product, so it is relevant to more people and nations."

Instead of trying to diversify the business, he wants to focus on its flagship product.

"Usually when talking about expansion, people say if you want to grow the business, it is about the number of products. But it's not that simple. Rather than spreading across many different variants and products, I really want to concentrate on this chicken essence and get the best out of it."

He is also looking at new and better ways of getting the message to consumers.

"This is not a simple food or beverage product," he notes. "It is a health supplement.

"So, to help our consumers, we want to embark on digital direct engagement. It is not the traditional way of doing things, such as TV commercials or magazines.

"We are now investing heavily in creating a back-end system, so that we can identify each individual customer's profile (and) craft specific offerings for them, based on very accurate data tracking."

Mr Saito's journey to Cerebos Pacific has been an eventful one, including stints at a winery in Adelaide and at fast-food giant McDonald's.

In 1984, he started out in sales at Suntory, which acquired Cerebos Pacific in 1990.

In 1992, he became the director of finance for a small winery in Adelaide partially owned by Suntory.

"That's where I faced many challenges as well as joy.

"Everybody had to contribute, so I used to do the fermentation process. At midnight, I had to climb to the top of the fermentation tank to pump the liquid."

Other posts at Suntory followed, with postings in New Zealand, Sydney and Tokyo before he came here in 2010, eventually becoming group chief executive of Cerebos Pacific last July.

The Cerebos Pacific headquarters here hires 160 people, including 20 scientists and researchers working at an institute in Biopolis.

Mr Saito is looking to expand the business beyond South-east Asia, to Japan and possibly to Britain.

But it is not all about profits either. He is trying to inculcate a sense of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in his employees.

"We encourage employees to participate in CSR projects and activities for the needy."

This year's initiative involves staff raising $180,000 for the 180 children it has adopted under World Vision.

Mr Saito is married with three daughters and a son. They are between 13 and 22 years old.

"So from 1992 to 2002, every year I was either having a new kid or relocating to a new country. It was crazy and fun."

Although Singapore is convenient, "maybe what I miss are mountains and rivers, that sort of stuff", he says.

He plays tennis occasionally and rides a motorcycle to unwind from his hectic schedule.

"I own a Suzuki 650 now," he says. "I used to have two bikes back in Tokyo, but I had to sell them because I couldn't bring them over."

On some weekends, he rides to Malaysia early in the morning when his family is still asleep. He stays on the road for about two hours and returns before breakfast.

"It's nice to have freedom like that and to have your own time. That's balance to me."

fabkoh@sph.com.sg

An earlier version of this story said that Brand’s Essence of Chicken now accounts for 60 per cent, or $588.6 million, of Cerebos Pacific’s overall revenue last year. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2015, with the headline 'Focusing on the brand's essence'. Print Edition | Subscribe