Tee Yih Jia stays the course in Europe despite pandemic

The continent is one of the frozen food manufacturer's largest markets in terms of sales.

THE coronavirus pandemic may be heavily disrupting Tee Yih Jia's export business in Europe now, but it has not dampened the Singaporean frozen food manufacturer's plans to expand further in the region.

Europe is one of Tee Yih Jia's largest markets in terms of sales, apart from the US and Oceania, which includes Australia and New Zealand.

Yet, the company is facing its "biggest setback" there, with countries across Europe now also experiencing a resurgence in cases of the deadly virus.

Collin Sim, Tee Yih Jia's assistant market development manager, said that the company's core spring roll pastry products feature "very prominently" in the food service sector, so when food establishments were made to close temporarily under lockdowns, sales were inevitably affected.

In addition, buyers are being more conservative during this period.

"They're not open to taking new products, especially the supermarkets, which just want to focus on driving sales," he said.

"For instance, in terms of presenting to them ideas or a new range of products for their shelves or for their festive periods, they may be more reluctant."

And now, with Europe bracing for a second wave of the coronavirus, some of Tee Yih Jia's distributors have asked to pause shipments, meaning some products have to be held in cold storage.

"It is turning out to be quite a challenge for us", Mr Sim said.

The overall impact, however, has been slightly offset by an uptick in the sales of Tee Yih Jia's frozen paratha.

According to Mr Sim, more consumers bought the paratha to consume at home during the lockdowns.

Still, Tee Yih Jia is undaunted in its plans to grow its presence in Europe. It is already present in most European countries but "we hope to dive in deeper and really maximise the market presence", he said.

It means moving beyond Asian or ethnic grocers to getting mainstream supermarkets to stock Tee Yih Jia's products.

For example, in Romania, Asian stores may carry the company's products, but the country overall may not be as receptive to Asian products yet.

In terms of markets, Tee Yih Jia will focus on gaining ground in eastern Europe, Mr Sim said.

The company is most established in countries in western Europe, such as the Netherlands, France and Germany. It is also "fairly strong" in the south, in countries like Italy, Malta and Greece, for instance.

A new brand and range of plant-based frozen food products is also in the works, with plans to retail and export them next year.

The European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA), which came into force last November, will give Tee Yih Jia's export business a further boost.

Among the benefits is the EU removing 84 per cent of all its tariffs for exports from Singapore, with virtually all of the remaining 16 per cent to be removed over a period of three to five years.

Also, Asian food products made in Singapore, such as spicy anchovies and other fishery products, can now enter the EU tariff-free under flexible rules of origin, up to a combined quota of 1,250 tonnes annually.

"This will enable more cost savings for our distributors, which could then lower the end price of the product, making us more competitive to locally made products," Mr Sim said.

With the EUSFTA now in force, customers are already enjoying cost savings of about 2-3 per cent on average, he added.

Alternatively, Tee Yih Jia hopes that its distributors could make use of the cost savings to do more marketing for the brand.

"Over time, both sides will gain more," Mr Sim said.