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Bee Cheng Hiang finally in Japan

It has taken more than 20 years, but Singaporean barbecued pork chain Bee Cheng Hiang has finally opened its first store in Japan – in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district.

It is the 11th overseas market for the chain, but the hardest one to crack.

Bee Cheng Hiang group GM Daniel Wong attributes the lengthy process to Japan’s strict food safety and regulatory compliance framework, a business culture complicated by the language barrier, and the decision to wholly own the store instead of leasing it out to a local franchisee.

There were even government-to-government talks to allow meat to be imported from Singapore, he says, including trips by officials from Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to Bee Cheng Hiang’s Singapore factory.

To make up for lost time, Bee Cheng Hiang is embarking on an aggressive expansion drive, with more stores already being planned for the Ginza belt and the Shimbashi business district, says Wong. As an example of its expansion capability, the chain has 17 outlets across three cities in South Korea after launching in Seoul in 2010.

Peggy Chin, who is in charge of the brand’s Japan business, says Japanese tourists have been buying the chain’s product from the other markets in Northeast Asia – Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan. “They recognise us as the ‘barbecue chain from Singapore’.”

She says the company has acquired factory space in nearby Kanagawa prefecture. The chain has two factories in China, where it opened its first store in 2002 and has more than 200 outlets.

The 83-year-old company joins other Singaporean food brands that have established a presence in Tokyo. Chicken rice store Wee Nam Kee celebrated the first anniversary of its Tokyo restaurant, in a Ginza shopping mall, last month. Soya bean specialist Mr Bean‘s store in the Shibuya shopping district is used by locals as a meeting point.

Salad Stop will be making its Japanese debut later this year.

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