No Signboard Seafood buys brewery and experiments with flavours

Mr Sam Lim of No Signboard Seafood wants to come up with all kinds of beer, having bought over Draft Denmark

No Signboard Seafood's chief executive Sam Lim is targeting millennials with Draft Denmark.
No Signboard Seafood's chief executive Sam Lim is targeting millennials with Draft Denmark. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Diners at No Signboard Seafood will soon be able to chug down a chilli beer with their chilli crab dish or have a can of white pepper beer with their pepper crab.

The seafood restaurant chain has acquired Singapore-based brewery Draft Denmark, a move led by its chief executive, Mr Sam Lim.

The acquisition of the brewery, which specialises in Danish-style lager, amounted to a seven-figure sum and was finalised in June after eight months of negotiation.

Mr Lim, 40, hopes to push the boundaries of flavours in beers.

The businessman, who took over the running of the family-owned No Signboard Seafood in 1998, says: "Like running a food business, I want to come up with a menu of many interesting beer flavours including fruit, coffee and chilli. Instead of the old-school style of going with a single type of beer, the new beers will come in all sorts of colours and flavours."

Consumers can sample these newfangled beers when Draft Denmark's spin-off concept Kleur launches at the upcoming beer festival, Beerfest Asia, at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre from next Thursday to Sunday. It will serve multi-coloured lagers in flavours such as grapefruit, green apple and strawberry. Visitors can also enjoy regular and dark lager topped with ice cream and wafers.

Mr Lim hopes to inject a dose of youthfulness into Draft Denmark's image by targeting tipple-happy millennials.

"Youngsters are more willing to try new flavours of beer," he says. "When they meet friends, they do not just drink, but they want to post and share their beers on Instagram, so we need to create something that is visually appealing for them."

Having been in the food and beverage business for so long, Mr Lim has long been looking for an opportunity to put his own twist on beers, which are a stalwart accompaniment to the zi char dishes that his restaurants serve.

However, the possibilities were limited, he says, as other Singapore-based breweries such as Tiger Beer are owned by alcohol juggernauts, which means they are less open to working with small-time players to introduce new, creative products.

Then, two years ago, Draft Denmark approached Mr Lim on serving its beer at his restaurants and asked if he was keen to have a stake in the business. The company needed an injection of investment to expand.

After tasting the brewery's lager, he was won over by its "smooth and light texture and aroma".

He then discovered, after some research, that Draft Denmark beer had a firm footing in the market.

The beer, available on tap and in 633ml quart bottles, is distributed at about 300 outlets in Singapore, including at pubs, nightclubs and coffee shops. The brewery, which opened three years ago, sells 80,000 barrels or 2.4 million litres of lager annually.

Convinced there was potential for growth, he asked to buy the brewery instead - a decision which "Draft Denmark's owners were more than happy about as they needed more investment and a focused leadership", says Mr Lim.

He aims to increase Draft Denmark's distribution reach by five times, expanding to countries such as Indonesia and China and, eventually, Europe.

To that end, he plans to ramp up beer production by building a brewery on a 10ha plot of land in Indonesia in 21/2 years' time. It will cost "less than $25 million", he says. The beer is currently brewed in factories across South-east Asia.

While the businessman admits that he does not have experience running a brewery, he points out that the brewery's management and operations team have worked in other alcohol companies such as Asia Pacific Breweries, Carlsberg Singapore and Moet Hennessey Diageo.

In the immediate future, there are plans for Draft Denmark's lager to be made available in cans and pint bottles, and to produce dark lager brewed with roasted malt. And to widen the beverage's distribution in Singapore, Draft Denmark will partner local beverage company Yeo's to make its debut in major supermarket chains including Giant and FairPrice by October.

Also in the works are plans to brew alcohol-free beer and customised beers for clients.

Besides making inroads in the beer industry, No Signboard Seafood is diversifying its business.

In April, it started The Ma2 (Mama) Shop, a cluster of vending machines that sells ready-to-eat meals and medical supplies in seven locations including Tampines and Holland Drive.

Mr Lim says that he is also beefing up No Signboard's business portfolio to withstand pressure from being bought over by large China-based companies.

The seafood restaurant chain grew from a humble stall in Mattar Road Hawker Centre, that started in the 1970s, to four restaurant outlets in prime locations such as VivoCity and Esplanade.

He says: "Companies from China are intensively buying over local food and beverage companies. By diversifying my business, we can withstand those pressures and maintain our position in the market as a made-in-Singapore brand."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2017, with the headline No Signboard Seafood buys brewery and experiments with flavours. Subscribe