PrimaDeli's franchise model a recipe for success

PrimaDeli general manager George Lim with some of the products made by the firm that are sold by its franchisees. The company's franchise model differed from others in that the idea was for existing bakeries to take on the PrimaDeli brand and sell pr
PrimaDeli general manager George Lim with some of the products made by the firm that are sold by its franchisees. The company's franchise model differed from others in that the idea was for existing bakeries to take on the PrimaDeli brand and sell products made by the firm's central kitchen.PHOTO: PRIMADELI

In 1992, Prima was still focused on its main business of milling flour, when the government agency then known as the National Productivity Board approached it with an idea.

Given Prima's size, its close ties to the local bakery industry and its research and development capabilities, why not take the lead in uplifting local confectioneries?

While the management team was keen to do something for "national service", it was also mindful that it did not want to enter the bakery business as a competitor to its clients, to whom it supplied flour.

And so it decided on a franchise model, and PrimaDeli - the bakery chain now known for its pandan chiffon cakes, chicken pies and lava cheese tarts - was born.

The idea was that existing bakeries would take on the new PrimaDeli brand and begin selling products made by Prima's new central kitchen.

Backed by a team of chefs, chemists, nutritionists and tasters, the kitchen would produce breads, pies and cakes that would be a cut above what was then available among local bakeries - and be a strong competitor against incoming foreign players.

"Usually, a company starts by opening its own stores which it controls, and when these stores succeed, they use the franchise model to expand.

"In our case, we had only the concept and a brand. So our challenge was to attract the first franchiser," said PrimaDeli general manager George Lim.

"In the first year, we managed to get 10 bakeries to give up their own products and take a leap of faith by taking on our brand and goods. We knew we could not fail them."

UNUSUAL BEGINNINGS

In the first year, we managed to get 10 bakeries to give up their own products and take a leap of faith by taking on our brand and goods. We knew we could not fail them.

PRIMADELI GENERAL MANAGER GEORGE LIM, on the challenge in the early years.

PrimaDeli grew from strength to strength, and as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, it counts over 40 outlets islandwide.

This number is growing, with potential franchisees constantly approaching the firm, Mr Lim said.

"We even have a number of franchisees who own more than one outlet so it has been a very satisfying partnership. We hope to hit 50 outlets in the next couple of years."

Even as PrimaDeli outlets have reaped much success for the firm, it does not plan to open any corporate-owned stores, as it does not want to compete against its franchisees.

Going by the numbers, the outlets are doing quite well indeed, churning out 3.2 million waffles and selling some 350,000 whole cakes last year.

The outlets continue to be backed by a research and development team comprising 19 staff - a product development team, food technologists and research bakers.

For its 25th anniversary, 25 per cent of proceeds from all PrimaDeli outlets from last Friday to today will go towards the President's Challenge.

"PrimaDeli's success has been thanks to support from a wide cross-section of Singapore society and we felt that the President's Challenge was a good fit as it benefits diverse causes across the country," Mr Lim said.

Yasmine Yahya

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'PrimaDeli's franchise model a recipe for success'. Print Edition | Subscribe