Mr Lee Chit Shung explaining Montreux’s success secrets to Minister Josephine Teo and e2i CEO Gilbert Tan (in blue)
Despite its French-sounding name, Montreux Patisserie Pte Ltd is a true-blue Singaporean brand.
The company supplies pastries to hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, country clubs and more, and they now operate out of their new factory at 44 Senoko Drive after purchasing a 20,000 square feet plot of land and building their factory according to their requirements.
And the man behind the business’ leaps of faith is Chef Lee Lay, an award-winning pastry chef who has garnered international accolades. Back in 1995, he started the bakery at East Coast Road when he was 45 years old – a decision which his friends found bold.
And together with his son, Mr Lee Chit Shung, the company has made yet another bold move in investing $11 million in buying the piece of land, building the new factory, acquiring machinery and moving their operations over from Bedok.
On 29th June, Minister Josephine Teo, the Second Minister for Manpower, visited Montreux Patisserie for a tour of the facility and wasted no time in getting hands-on experience in pastry-making.
Minister Josephine Teo decorating the cupcakes after piping the cream on top.
Adding the filling to the curry puff ‘skin’. The curry puffs which Montreux Patisserie makes are HUGE!
If you’re wondering why the staff are making curry puffs by hand when the company has supposedly made a hefty investment into automating its processes, it’s because the machine which produces curry puffs is “too productive”. It can produce some 85,000 pieces a day!
And because the Singapore market for curry puffs isn’t large enough, the machine is left idling – it’s used only 3 days in a week. Once the curry puffs are produced, they can be stored for up to 9 months using the blast freezing technology, without the use of preservatives. And every pastry-making department in Montreux Patisserie has a blast freezer (there are 5 in total).
Minister Josephine Teo and Mr Lee Chit Shung at the entrance to the blast freezer. One roll-in unit can blast freeze 32 trays of pastries in 32 mins!
We did not enter the blast freezer, for obvious reasons. And it was already very cold just about everywhere in the pastry-making department. The company had sought the help of food consultants who guided them through the factory building process. They were advised to keep temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius when producing the pastries so as to slow down bacterial growth. The company has also provided staff with ‘heat tech t-shirts’ to help keep them warm – a thoughtful gesture which I’m sure they’ll appreciate.
Another thing staff appreciate is the machinery which aids them in their work. For instance, cake-cutting by hand takes about 10 minutes per cake, while the machine can do the job (perfectly, if I may add) in 2 minutes or so. And the best part is that the company cuts down on wastage and employees are at less risk of accidentally slicing their own fingers when cutting the cakes by hand.
Cake-cutting machine does the same job 5 times faster than by hand!
While technology helps companies cope with the manpower crunch, it can also mean that some employees no longer have their old jobs as they have been ‘replaced’ by machines which can do their tasks better, faster and cheaper.
Only 1 or 2 employees needed per station (vs. 6 in the past)
Montreux Patisserie, however, is firm in its belief that workers who have been with them for so long should not be let go simply because of automation. The company credits the Employment and Employability Institute, e2i, with helping them facilitate training, subsidizing man-hours used for training, planning the new duties of staff, and other manpower related issues. e2i was able to do this only after asking “detailed questions” about the job scopes of the staff and through consultation with the company, successfully helped redesign the jobs of the workers.
“Older staff may be redeployed to the packaging department. Or they go for training and take up less laborious tasks. We cannot bear to let them go.” – Mr Lee Chit Shung
Mr Lee Chit Shung shows Minister Teo the various baking equipment in the kitchen.
And when it comes to the selection of machinery, getting a good bargain AND convincing staff who might be a tad resistant to all this new technology, Montreux Patisserie has got it down pat.
“We place a deposit and ask the manufacturer to bring in the machine during the FHA (Food and Hotel Asia). At the end of the fair, they sell the machine to us at 20% discount, instead of sending it back overseas. Also, we bring our staff to the FHA and they can see firsthand how it’s so easy to operate. And e2i comes in and advises on the grants we can receive.”
Next year, the FHA, which is the largest international food trade show in Asia, will be held in Singapore again and Montreux Patisserie has already set its sights on the machines it wants.
The younger Mr Lee says the CEO of e2i, Mr Gilbert Tan, is often able to tell on the spot (at the FHA) whether the company can get a 40, 50% etc grant under the Inclusive Growth Programme, judging from the “productivity boost” during the demonstrations of what the (new) machines can do at the FHA.
The latest updates / details on IGP and its benefits can be found here
Besides grants, e2i also provides the company with information on “innovation, automation, fabrication (of machines)”. Thus, Montreux Patisserie is able to effectively negotiate with manufacturers and get customized machines from Mitsubishi Electric, etc. The machines are tailor-made to suit the products that the company is producing and also simple enough for the staff to operate.
Mdm Law Siew Leng, 51, and her team can now make double the pastries with a new dough machine (Photo: NTUC This Week)
All staff whose jobs were redesigned due to the incorporation of the new machines, have a pay increase due to productivity gains too!
“e2i has done a good job in simplifying the process of application, they are willing to listen, invest more time in us, share their knowledge and expertise as they also meet other enterprises and can do cross-references, telling us a certain machine is also suitable for us.
Thus we can check with the manufacturer and ask for certain specification and calibration. The end goal is to make it simple for staff to use – they are not stupid; they are scared. So we tell them “just press one button” and show them how easy it is to use as many things have been pre-programmed already.”
Mr Lee Chit Shung, Chef Lee Lay and Minister Josephine Teo
What I found most impressive about Montreux Patisserie, beyond that gigantic box of chocolates they gave to the Minister (it’s the biggest box of chocolates I’ve ever seen!), are these two things: their emphasis on staff training, and their openness to sharing (even with so-called ‘competitors’ in the industry).
According to the Lees, it’s wrong of bosses to think that there is no point in training staff as they might leave the company right after receiving the training.
“Give them the chance to grow. Otherwise, they will jump ship anyway. Our job is to groom them. We must train them for our own good. Don’t be afraid a competitor might poach them.”
Training appears to be a big part of Montreux Patisserie’s company culture as the bosses believe that the staff must be trained to know the details of everything they are working with. The younger Mr Lee is emphatic about how staff need to know the ingredients well, such as how “the difference between salted and unsalted butter is only that 2%” so they know what went wrong and how to rectify the issue when they make a mistake.
#2: “Sharing is loving”
While other companies are closely guarding all aspects of their operations by not allowing people to take pictures of the machinery they are using, for example, Montreux Patisserie is going in the opposite direction.
“We are happy to open our factory to whomever is interested to come and see. If we are the only one growing, how much price growth can we command? If the whole industry grows together, it’s different. We cannot be selfish; we must share. Sharing is loving. And if the Singapore pavilion gets bigger at trade fairs, it is also better for us.”
Even though the younger Mr Lee estimates that only about 35% of the company’s operations are automated right now, the move towards automation has resulted in the company’s growth TRIPLING. They plan to begin exporting their products by the year 2020 and are currently studying the taste profile of consumers in overseas markets, in Dubai, Hong Kong, Indonesia, etc.
With their brand of resourcefulness, and with adequate support from e2i and the Government, I believe it’ll be a piece of cake for them to spread their wings overseas. 🙂