Chinese food giant Wing Yip plans Birmingham expansion
The nation’s insatiable hunger for Chinese dinners and take-aways has sparked a massive expansion by Birmingham food specialist Wing Yip.
The Chinese food group, founded by a former Hong Kong immigrant, is bucking the economic trend by investing more than £13million to meet UK food-lovers’ demand for rice, noodles, exotic sauces and Far Eastern groceries.
Chairman Wing Yip, now 71, who celebrates his 50th year in Britain in March, revealed his company has snapped up land next to its Nechells headquarters to boost its distribution operation. The superstore, which is alongside and stocks more than 2,500 products, will also expand.
The group has also acquired land in Nottingham and Cardiff for two giant outlets, a move which will increase the retail chain’s portfolio of superstores to six. The others are in Manchester and London – in Croydon and Cricklewood – as well as the original supermarket on Nechells Park Road.
Multi-millionaire Mr Yip, who worked as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant in Hull when he came to Britain in 1959, said he had weathered three recessions and was optimistic about future trading. People always needed to eat, regardless of the economic climate, he said.
“The food business is not recession-proof, but food is so essential for us to live. You have to eat to survive,” said Mr Yip.
He praised 80s chefs such as Ken Hom for raising awareness about Chinese food and said the style of cooking appealed to modern-day diners seeking a low salt, low sugar diet. Mr Yip now plans to fuel further growth by rebranding his operation as pan-Asian, appealing to the UK’s broad cultural demographic as well as English people’s love of exotic, spicy food.
Wing Yip, founded in Birmingham in 1970, has just completed the £4million purchase of two slices of land at Railway Terrace and Centre Link, together totalling three acres, next to the Nechells headquarters.
It has invested a further £7million buying a three-acre plot at Cardiff and £2.3million on two acres at Nottingham. Both these sites are earmarked for two new superstores, which will be supplied from the expanded Birmingham distribution hub.
The recession land-grab comes at a time when Wing Yip has seen strong growth with turnover for 2008 up eight per cent to £92million.
Defying the economic doomsayers, Mr Yip sees no reason why his company’s growth should slow. He said: “If I look six months to a year ahead I see a good future for us. The pound is so weak and the recession is pretty deep, too. People are not changing their house or replacing their car. They aren’t going overseas for holidays.
“But they still consume. Instead of consuming in France they consume in Brighton, Blackpool or Birmingham.”
Wealthy people, who used to buy Champagne when they dined out, might now buy a bottle of wine instead, but they still had to eat, said Mr Yip.
“The food business is the first one to be affected by a recession. But we are the first sector to come back,” he added.
“I have been here in the UK for 50 years and passed through three very deep recessions. All the food businesses always come out OK.”
The vast majority of Wing Yip’s business – about 95 per cent – involves restaurants and take-away owners buying in bulk. A typical restaurant owner visits a Wing Yip store twice a week to shop for several hundred customers.
Mr Yip conceded suppliers and his own business were having to make “adjustments” because of the economic downturn, but Wing Yip had benefited as a company because it operated as a cash business rather than relying on credit lines, which have dried up during the banking collapse.
In a thinly veiled attack on businesses that failed to plan for harsh trading conditions, Mr Yip said: “They were expanding in the good times. In the good times, I didn’t spend much. I spend in the hard times. In the good times, the land is so expensive. All the big boys are chasing it. There is more money than land – and more money than brains.”
Mr Yip said it was important not to panic and offered advice to struggling companies, saying: “No good time lasts forever. No bad time lasts forever. We were told when we were young that when the good time comes, you should think about the bad time. When the bad time comes, you plan for the good time.”
The veteran entrepreneur plans to kick-start future growth by developing his Wing Yip pan-Asian concept. Although the company is generally perceived as a Chinese food specialist, Wing Yip stores already sell produce from Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.
Mr Yip said: “We are doing it slowly. It may take five years although in London we are already there. You see customers of all races and religions. We are a united nations.”