Mrs So's XO sauce among six emerging brands award winners

XO recipe was among six products that won top emerging brands awards

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 July, 2013, 5:28am

When she started making XO sauce for family and friends, Patsy Cheong So Ka-wai did not expect it to end up on the shelves of upmarket supermarket chains.

But Mrs So's XO sauce - named after a family recipe passed down by Cheong's mother So Chau Yim-ping, the founder of Hong Kong-listed New Island Printing - is now a popular brand that is poised to grow further.

"We want [it] to become a gift that represents Hong Kong," Cheong said.

Mrs So's was one of six companies recognised as a "Hong Kong emerging brand" last year by the Brand Development Council and the Chinese Manufacturers' Association.

Since 1999, the council has recognised more than 240 small- to medium-sized companies that offer exceptional "made in Hong Kong" products and services.

Company director Cheong said her brand outshone established sauce giants such as Lee Kum Kee because she was constantly tweaking traditional flavours for younger consumers.

"Many large brands cannot capture this kind of essence, like how we closely monitor the quality of each ingredient and revitalise nostalgic tastes," she said.

A standard jar of Mrs So's costs 40 per cent more than Lee Kum Kee's product, and some pay up to HK$500 for a gift set. Amid aggressive competition, emerging brands are encouraged to lift their presence locally and tap the mainland market.

"Big brands aren't everything," council general committee member Addy Wong said. "We want to discover fresh faces and promote them."

The companies behind the winning brands can use their "Hong Kong Emerging Brand Mark" in promotions for two years, and also attend mainland trade fairs in second-tier cities such as Wuhan and Xiamen.

That networking opportunity allowed Cheong to find potential mainland partners and explore new flavours catering to consumers from different regions.

Embassy Hotel Group was little known in Hong Kong before chief executive David Leung Dai-wai introduced themed motels suitable for visiting families.

The motel operator revamps old buildings in Hong Kong, with each room styled in a theme that can range from country elements to cartoon characters.

Leung said most Hongkongers had a low opinion of motels, but things were changing.

"We know a lot of visitors and enterprises receive assurance through such awards, and the Brand Development Council is a prestigious institution," he said.

The group, which won an emerging service brand award last year, has seen occupancy rates grow by more than 10 per cent this year.

It has 12 motels in Taiwan, the mainland, Macau and Hong Kong. Leung hopes to add 30 motels in Hong Kong and is keen to enter at least six top-tier and second-tier mainland cities.

The company plans to open a two-star serviced apartment and motel complex on a 30,000 square foot site in Hainan by 2015, and has raised about HK$150 million for the project through pool funding.

Baby Kingdom, a Hong Kong-based parenting forum and retailer that won a "2011 top brands award", has successfully cracked the mainland market as a mobile apps maker.

Vice-chairman Rainer Sip said the 11-year-old firm's mainland operation, initially faced credibility issues.

"There was a media outlet wanting [us] to make a newspaper mobile app for them, but it held back when we wanted to sign a contract," Sip said. "They asked: why should we trust a small company like you?"

After he presented its Hong Kong Information and Communications Technology award and top brands award - which aligned the brand with household names such as Kee Wah bakery - the deal was possible.

"We filled the gap by serving SMEs that lacked the financial ability to use bigger app makers," Sip said.

The food and beverage industry has accounted for 38.5 per cent of the 122 brand winners.

Organisers are accepting applications for this year's awards until August 31.