24 Oct 2008
Creative Cooking(HKTDC Houseware, Vol 01,2009)
Cooks the world over crave more time-saving and easy-to-clean products, and Hong Kong manufacturers of kitchenware are responding with new materials and designs.
Lee Tat Man Fty Ltd, for example, is active in the manufacture of a broad range of kitchenware suitable for diverse markets. "We have been in the business for some 35 years," announces Managing Director Tommy Suen.
"Originally, we started out in mould making as the firm's founder was in that industry. Our direction changed over the years as the family's second generation came into the firm."
Lee Tat still produces its own moulds today, which helps in quickly bringing new ideas to fruition. "It is important to diversify and to offer at least a few new or different items each year," insists Mr Suen.
"We also take this approach with raw materials, and today plastic is as important as stainless steel, while silicone has established a very important role in kitchen accessories," he adds. "We also offer excellent kitchenware using Teflon coatings, and we are licensed by DuPont."
The firm experienced its first export business in 1984, and the early shipments were destined for markets in Europe. "We were working through traders and importers in those days," says Mr Suen, "but in 2003 we started to establish direct contact with retail buyers such as large department stores."
Supplying the retail trade brought new challenges but also new opportunities. "Working directly with retailers meant a lot more pertinent information reaching us, and we quickly learned and understood the market needs and the various demands of different clients," Mr Suen says. "Dealing with importers previously had inured us to this aspect of the business."
Although the company is adept at both ODM and OEM, it has yet to invest in the creation of an own brand. "At present, we are happy to brand according to the customer's requirements," Mr Suen says.
"Anyway, for the most part we tend to rely a lot on customers as their tips and generous feedback often lead to new ideas with the benefit of a potential customer eager to buy."
That said, Lee Tat ensures that its engineering expertise remains first class. "We have fully qualified teams for various disciplines and they are charged with ensuring familiarity and competence with new technology, new machinery and new materials," Mr Suen says.
Quality is also of prime importance. "After completing each order we have the items checked according to the pertinent standard," Mr Suen assures. "It may be an independent laboratory that supplies a certificate or a QC consultant. In any case, all of our products are RoHS-compliant."
A perennial favourite among Lee Tat's customers is the firm's line of stainless steel products. "One item that remains a big seller in Europe is our range of kitchen oil pots," says Mr Suen. "These stainless steel items are very attractively designed for the European market, as are our mirror-finish, stainless steel tea sets."
Recent additions to the Lee Tat line of stainless steel wares include OEM/ODM barbecue tools, kitchenware, timers, cheese graters, ice-cream scoops, various kitchen utensils, egg slicers and bar accessories.
Lee Tat can offer regular-size items for the average home or larger sizes destined for the hospitality industry. "There is no doubt that developing the export side of our business was the way forward for us," Mr Suen affirms. "It allowed us to grow our business and our expertise."
Looking ahead, he sees some problems as a result of big overseas buying firms going to the Chinese mainland to seek joint-venture partners. "This trend will certainly impact our business and the whole industry," he observes. "It could, for example, bring significant competition to bear on the market that might result in severe downward price pressure."
There is also economy of scale to take into account. "For example, how long can a joint-venture factory survive with a single customer?" he asks. "It is quite possible that the firm would have to diversify and accept OEM orders just to stay in business."
Lee Tat seems assured of a bright future in the kitchenware sector, with an excellent range and the flexibility to do more.
TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON