Three home-grown brands celebrate milestone anniversaries

Household names Ayam Brand, Three Legs Cooling Water and Magnolia mark milestone anniversaries this year and all are going strong

New food brands and hip trends tend to hog the spotlight, but local heritage brands should not be overlooked - in particular, those that have thrived in the scene for at least 80 years.

This year, three household brands mark their milestone anniversaries. Ayam Brand, known for its canned sardines, is 125 years old. And celebrating their 80th year are Magnolia and Wen Ken Group, which owns Three Legs Cooling Water. Magnolia's range of products includes fresh milk and yogurt smoothies.

To stay afloat amid tough competition, it is all about retaining the loyalty of old customers, while gaining favour among the younger generation.

Wen Ken Group managing director Fu Siang Jeen, 44, says: "We have to be mindful of changing trends to cater to consumer needs and still be relevant in the market.

"Even if we want to change the Three Legs logo, we have to be careful about how we do it. If we change it too much, no one will recognise our brand and we also want to preserve our heritage."

Over the years, the packaging of the group's popular Three Legs Cooling Water has evolved - from a glass bottle with a metal cap to a plastic bottle with a more colourful design - to highlight its three new flavours: lime, guava and lychee.

And with consumers becoming more health-conscious, Magnolia and Ayam Brand are offering healthier options.

The Magnolia Plus range - launched two years ago - offers pasteurised milk with oats, while Ayam Brand's new tuna products include organic extra virgin olive oil and organic vegetable broth.

On the brand's longevity, Ms Jennifer See, general manager of F&N Foods, which owns Magnolia, says: "We continue to leverage on our research and development and production capabilities to offer milk that many Singaporeans across generations have grown to trust.

"With 80 years of experience, we are able to surge ahead with our extensive product offerings that satisfy the palate and demands of health-conscious Singaporeans."

The Sunday Times tracks the history and milestones of each brand.

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Canned sardines' luxury beginnings



Ayam Brand started in 1892 with canned salmon, serving consumers who were mostly British residents of the Straits Settlements (Singapore and Malaysia).

Back then, canned food was a premium item, as canning was considered a high-tech process.

Mr Herve Simon, 52, group marketing director of Denis Group, which owns Ayam Brand, says: "Arriving vessels of goods were advertised in newspapers, so most of the products were pre-sold before even touching the dock of the port."

With its popularity, the founder of Ayam Brand, Frenchman Alfred Clouet, decided to expand the range with a variety of other canned goods such as sardines in tomato sauce.

Swiss company Denis Group - which has a regional office in Singapore - acquired Ayam Brand in 1956, together with the companies distributing the brand.

In the 1970s, Ayam Brand introduced tuna and it was adapted to suit local tastebuds with the addition of chilli.

With the high consumption of coconut in South-east Asia, the brand also introduced coconut products 10 years ago. Items include coconut milk and cream.


Catering to health-conscious consumers, Ayam Brand has launched European-certified Ayam Brand Tuna Chunks In Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Ayam Brand Tuna Flakes In Organic Vegetable Broth. They cost $2.85 each from FairPrice and selected Cold Storage supermarkets.

In addition, the brand also carries Brisling sardines, which are caught in the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean during winter.

They are available in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil and Tomato Sauce, and are priced at $3.90 each, available only at FairPrice supermarkets.

In May, the brand will also spice up its offerings with Ayam Brand Chilli Tuna Fire Hot.


1 Ayam Brand was first developed with the idea of selling perfumes and cosmetics from Paris. Clouet selected the rooster, which is considered a symbol of excellence in France.

Mr Simon says: "We do not know what happened to the luxury products project, but eventually, Mr Clouet used the brand for canned food."

2 Before settling on its name, the brand was just designated "the cock brand", says Mr Simon, who adds that there were many legal documents detailing the brand's many legal fights due to "numerous imitations" just a few years after its launch.

Consumers and those in the industry started calling the canned sardines "Cap Ayam" for easy reference and, eventually, Clouet accepted the name as a unique blend of Malay and English.

3 In Western markets, Ayam Brand sells a range of gluten-free products including sauces and noodles.

Family business in good health



The Wen Ken Group was founded by four families in 1937.

Back then, one of the founders, Mr Foo Yew Ming, was working in a medical hall and noticed that many consumers had ailments such as headaches, coughs, skin problems and heatiness.

He rounded up other partners to start Wen Ken Group. The group remains a family business as two of the founding families are still managing the company, while the other two are shareholders.

Two of Mr Foo's grandsons - Mr Fu Siang Jeen, 44, and Mr Fu Shou Jeen, 43 - are part of the third-generation management.

The group's flagship product is its Three Legs Cooling Water, which is formulated with de-ionised water and natural minerals such as gypsum fibrosum and calcitum - meant to relieve heatiness.

The group also has a wide range of other medicinal products, such as Three Legs Pe Pa Kao, Three Legs Cough Relief and Three Legs Tinea Skin Solution.

Its biggest market is Indonesia, where it has three factories.

For Singapore and Malaysia, production takes place at its 40,000 sq m factory in Johor Baru.

Overall, Mr Fu Shou Jeen estimates that about one million bottles of Three Legs Cooling Water are consumed in a day.

Sales of the drink account for about 85 per cent of the group's overall sales across all its products.

This advertisement is a New Year greeting from the Three Legs brand published on Jan 1, 1972 in Chinese newspaper Sin Chew Jit Poh. PHOTO: WEN KEN GROUP


For the first time, Three Legs Cooling Water launches flavoured cooling water. The three flavours are lychee, guava and lime and they come in a new size - 320ml.

The normal Three Legs Cooling Water (from 70 cents each) comes in a 200ml or 500ml bottle.

The lychee and guava flavours (from $1.30 each) are available at supermarkets, convenience stores and medical halls. The lime flavour ($2.20) is sold exclusively at 7-Eleven convenience stores.

The rhinoceros horn is known for its cooling properties, so the animal was used as a symbol because back then, many people were illiterate and could not read the description.

MR FU SIANG JEEN, WenKen Group’s managing director, on Three Legs Cooling Water using a picture of a rhinoceros on the bottle’s label in the early days


1 The name Wen Ken in Mandarin is "yong jian". "Yong" refers to the district of Yongding in the Fujian province of China, which is Mr Foo's hometown. "Jian" in Mandarin refers to health. When read together, both characters translate to mean "forever healthy".

2 As for the distinctive Three Legs logo, Wen Ken Group's managing director Fu Siang Jeen explains the philosophy behind it.

The "kneeling leg" symbolises humility and that the company listens to its customers and business partners.

The leg on top stands for diligence and Wen Ken Group's hard work for consumers. The third leg refers to "parity, to establish balance in life".

3 The packaging of Three Legs Cooling Water has evolved over the years, from a glass bottle with a metal cap, to the current poly- ethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle.

In its early days, a picture of a rhinoceros was used on the label.

The elder Mr Fu says: "The rhinoceros horn is known for its cooling properties, so the animal was used as a symbol because back then, many people were illiterate and could not read the description."

Later on, however, there was concern from consumers thinking there was actual rhinoceros horn used in making the drink and so the label was redesigned to avoid any confusion.

A local farm with 800 cows



Magnolia was established in 1937 by its founder Fred Heron. He set up the Singapore Dairy Farm in Bukit Timah, which was the only farm that successfully reared cows from a temperate climate in the equatorial region.

The farm quickly gained international attention, says Ms Jennifer See, general manager of F&N Foods, which owns Magnolia.

"The milk produced was of international standards, with butter content as high as 4 per cent. The milking process was done mechanically and the highest standard of hygiene was observed," she says.

In the 1950s, Magnolia introduced the pyramid- shaped milk packs, a shift from glass bottles. Using the packs was convenient as milk could be kept longer without refrigeration.

The brand was also part of the Milk School Programme in which children were given the pyramid packs to boost their nutritional intake.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, Magnolia continued to improve its packaging - evolving to use sealed screw caps for enhanced product safety.

In 2015, the Magnolia Plus range was introduced, combining milk with oats or Omega-3.

Since the beginning, its milk products and yogurt smoothies have all been made in Singapore.


To celebrate its 80th anniversary, Magnolia has launched a range of vintage mugs.

Redeem one of four designs with every purchase of two 1-litre packs or one 2-litre bottle of Magnolia Fresh Milk, or two bottles of Magnolia Yoghurt Smoothie (800ml). Redemption is available until Friday, while stocks last.


1 In the late 1960s, the Magnolia Snack Bar was launched at Capitol Theatre in Stamford Road to meet consumers' changing consumption patterns, especially in post-war Singapore. It served ice cream, milkshakes and cakes - all made with Magnolia milk.

The snack bar closed in 1984 as plans for the theatre's urban redevelopment got under way. There are no plans to revive it.

2 In 1969, Magnolia Butter Manufacturing was set up in the Magnolia Dairies complex at Bukit Timah.

The venture marked the brand's efforts to promote made-in-Singapore products. It has since closed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Oldies but goodies'. Print Edition | Subscribe