Secret Sauce: Simon Cheung
President – North Asia & Pacific Simon Cheung says Lee Kum Kee Sauce Group is moving beyond sauces and condiments to serve up more value to its customers.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives in many ways, including our eating habits. With lockdowns preventing most people from eating out or even getting deliveries, many took to cooking at home. This trend has continued post-pandemic, which is good news for Chinese sauce and condiments maker Lee Kum Kee Sauce Group.
"With the rising home cooking trend and the craving for delicious yet convenient food and cooking experiences for the consumer, over the past three years we have rolled out a lot of new products," says Simon Cheung, President – North Asia & Pacific of Lee Kum Kee.
Lee Kum Kee’s corporate mission is to promote Chinese culinary culture worldwide through its sauces and condiments. New products include a Ready-to-Eat product range and Menu-Oriented Sauces which he hopes will meet the demands of customers.
When we talk about consumer-first, consumer-centric, we need to really understand their needs.
Restaurant-style at home
"We help consumers to prepare restaurant-style meals, the same restaurant quality cooking at home," he says. These new products have been well received, and Lee Kum Kee is expanding their presence to other markets in North Asia, and as far as the United States.
Given the increasing demand for convenient food solutions, the brand has also extended its range to launch abalone with rice in April last year, followed by abalone with noodles in August and a hotpot range in October. Cheung stresses the brand’s desire to reach out to customers at every opportunity and create products with them in mind.
We are in an era of rapid and dynamic change, and there’s a lot of uncertainty and challenges.
"When we talk about consumer-first, consumer-centric, we need to really understand their needs, but there are a lot of people to serve. I’m talking about billions of consumers in the world, and so we have to work out how to communicate with them, to find out what they want."
This customer-focused approach of collecting data allows him and his team to better understand the current market trends, consumer behavior and preferences. "It enables us to develop a better taste and to fit different taste profiles."
Leading the way
Having been in leadership roles at Lee Kum Kee for the seven years he has been with the company, Cheung has a good grasp of its corporate culture and values. "I always keep our corporate core value in mind, ‘Si Li Ji Ren’ – which means considering other people’s interests. That can be other people, it can be consumers, it can be our customers and business partners," he adds.
This is underscored at every company level by a unique management concept called Autopilot Leadership. The concept is about choosing the right talent for the right job, and offering them support, empowering the team and then unleashing their full potential to achieve the organization’s goals.
We need to really communicate and observe consumer behavior, listen to them, get more insights from them and care about what they care about. Then we can make sure we are creating real value.
"We are in an era of rapid and dynamic change, and there’s a lot of uncertainty and challenges. We have to be dynamic in our leadership and deal with different challenges at different periods of time," he says.
Following the pandemic, while convenience was a driving force behind food choice, there was also a heightened awareness of consumers about healthy eating and cooking.
"Our other strategy on product development is about health awareness," Cheung says. "Everyone is now concerned more about nutrition and health. Not only in the post-COVID-19 era, but continuing this sense of healthy food, and the promotion of a plant-based diet, into the future."
Exploring new options
With this in mind, Lee Kum Kee is exploring products with less sodium, no MSG, no preservatives and also with a sauce application in plant-based meals. While leaders often have a number of objectives and goals to meet that can sidetrack them from the customers needs, putting customers first is an overarching theme for Cheung.
"We need to really communicate and observe consumer behavior, listen to them, get more insights from them and care about what they care about. Then we can make sure we are creating real value," he adds.
Our other strategy on product development is about health awareness.
While it may be a century-old brand, Lee Kum Kee and Cheung encourage a very modern leadership style based on being agile and quickly adapting to meet customers’ changing habits.
"We strive to uphold our corporate value of constant entrepreneurship while seeking innovation and breakthroughs. I think this is at the core of the business." This strategy fits well with its customer-centric approach, as he looks beyond sauces and condiments at how he can serve up more value.