by Zafar Anjum

How COVID-19 accelerated Phoon Huat’s move to e-commerce

Sep 26, 20213 mins
Retail Industry

The Singapore-based food supplier moved into online sales as the pandemic gathered steam—then had to rework its platform to scale and improve customer experience.

shuichi sato ceo phoon huat
Credit: Phoon Huat

Singapore-based Phoon Huat has grown into one of Singapore’s leading food suppliers, specialising in the manufacture and supply of baking ingredients, tools, and services for food services, consumer retail, artisan, and industrial bakeries.

With a global network of partners, Phoon Huat sources ingredients from all corners of the globe to serve more than 5,000 customers with 18 stores across Singapore. Founded in 1947, it has since spread to 26 countries, with annual revenues exceeding S$100 million.

In 2020, the company ventured into e-commerce by launching its, which carries more than 7,500 products, ranging from bakery products to international gourmet products.

Data and skills challenges in the move to e-commerce

Phoon Huat started its exploration journey to develop an online store in 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began gathering steam in Asia in late 2019, accelerated those plans, as the pandemic had begun to cripple physical businesses—including Phoon Huat’s 18 stores.

“We launched our in February 2020, which to an extent mitigated the eventual restrictions in operating our retail stores due to safety measures,” said Shuichi Sato, Phoon Huat’s CEO. The result: The company experienced explosive growth on its online store and recognized that it needed a scalable and sustainable platform to support its expansion.

However, as the company ventured into online commerce (it has presence on more than six online marketplaces, too), it ran into data and skills challenges. “We faced data-hygiene and data-mapping challenges due to the different platforms that we’ve adopted over the years,” Sato said. “This also resulted in differences in [standard operating procedures] across the organisation, which affected collaboration and productivity”.

Phoon Huat realised it needed greater technical skills in the company, including the use of applications, UI/UX for better customer experience, data analysis, testing, and management and operation of IT systems such as such as SAP, FlexBa, and Salesforce. “In addition to technical skills, we needed to cultivate a mindset among all our employees that embraces technology in their daily work,” Sato said.

As part of that upskilling, Phoon Huat adopted Salesforce’s Service Cloud and Commerce Cloud in a relaunch of, bringing an omnichannel sales approach to help its customer service team and enabling a digital customer journey across sales and customer support. That relaunch took nine months, debuting in May 2021.

Phoon Huat also used MuleSoft to integrate and unify data across its e-commerce experience, including customers.

“One of the key challenges we faced was how the digital transformation team needed to learn and understand the needs from the different business units—such as e-commerce, baking studio, and retail stores—and from the supporting departments, and to sort out data mapping between them,” Sato said.

The company will continue to embrace the ever-changing technology landscape. In the mid-term, “we will expand our digital transformation team with more members, and explore more innovative use of technology in our operations,” he said. “Over the long term, we will continuously reinforce the talent pool within the company by inculcating a digital mindset in all our employees and provide opportunities for them to reskill or upskill.”