The 2017 Life Power List

Food vending machine trailblazer

PHOTOS: GIN TAY FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES, ST FILE

12 Ms Jocelyn Chng, 50, chief executive of JR Group, which runs Chef-in-Box VendCafe

It began as a cluster of six vending machines at a Housing Board void deck in Sengkang in August last year. Since then, Chef-in-Box VendCafe by the JR Group, headed by Ms Chng, has expanded into more heartland locations and cemented its presence at MRT stations, hospitals, schools, offices and army camps.

And last Friday, she launched VendCafe's first cluster of vending machines at the JCube mall in Jurong East, marking its first venture into shopping centres.

As a trailblazer for the food vending machine revolution dishing out ready-to-eat meals, she has earned a debut spot at No. 12 on the Life Power List.

Chef-in-Box VendCafe is a culmination of eight years of research, labour and grappling with technology from when she first operated stand-alone vending machines in hospitals and schools in 2008.

The brand is a subsidiary of her food business, JR Foods, which Ms Chng started with her late husband Richard Wong, who was key in sparking the idea in 2001 of launching ready-to-eat meals in Singapore.

To further her goal of feeding the masses with fresh hot food, her World Chef Series for Chef-in-Box VendCafe features collaborations with chefs from India, Thailand and South Korea.

In August, she signed a memorandum of understanding with a partner in Britain to take Chef-in-Box VendCafe to London. She is still fielding inquiries from the United States and Australia.

The mother of three sons aged 15 to 22 says: "Ready-to-eat meals are already established as part of the culture in the UK. Chef-in-Box VendCafe will be good for the universities and we can take Singapore food to Singaporean students living there."

Under the JR Group, there are also subsidiary food and beverage brands including Japanese restaurant Shima at Goodwood Park hotel. Four of her six siblings continue to run the sauce business Sin Hwa Dee, which was started by her parents and exports to more than 30 countries.

On how the industry has grown since Chef-in-Box VendCafe started, Ms Chng says: "People used to talk about how eating food from vending machines is a last resort. That has started to change and, with healthy competition, it raises more awareness so consumers are confident about buying."

Eunice Quek

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'Food vending machine trailblazer'. Print Edition | Subscribe