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The man behind one of Hong Kong’s last tofu factories

Sitting in the office of Sun Fat Heung, one of Hong Kong’s last tofu factories, chief executive Law Mang-hing says he can custom make tofu according to a customer’s require­ments, be it size, firmness or style. I assume there is a minimum order, but his sister, Eris Law Lai-hung, interrupts to say, “The quantity doesn’t matter. He’ll make it anyway. That’s what he’s like.”

Law took over his father’s tofu business in 1996. “People look at tofu sellers and think, ‘Hawker’, and look down on the profession,” he says. “A lot of people thought I was crazy to take over a business in a so-called sunset industry, [at a time when] most factories were moving into China.

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“My father and his cousin started the business in 1958, when our family was living in a shanty house near Yau Tong. He had one bicycle and delivered all the tofu himself.”

Today Sun Fat Heung has 20 trucks, making daily deliveries to supermarkets and restaurants across Hong Kong.

“I’m proud of what we’re doing and I enjoy it. I’m proud to tell my kids that I make tofu. I believe Hongkongers should have the choice of buying local tofu that is healthy.”

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Law, an IT graduate, designed and installed fully automated systems in the company’s 20,000-sq-ft factory in Kam Tin.

In 2001, a major supermarket approached him about supplying fresh soy milk.

“They were moving into the superstore model, with a wet-market environment, so they wanted everything to be freshly made, but they wanted the soy milk to be able to last on the shelves for a few days, which isn’t usually possible with a fresh product. I didn’t want to start putting preservatives in our soy milk, because we’ve never done that, but I said yes first, then went back to think of a way.”

His solution was pasteurisation, and he invested in a whole new system despite the risks inherent in an untested business relationship.

“I don’t want to know why things can’t be done. I want to learn how to do it. It’s hard but I know we can work through it.”

This can-do attitude has won Law clients among not only the major supermarkets but also fast-food chains and independent restaurants. Law, however, is not one to rest on his laurels.

“We’re always improving,” he says, and, with his consumer brand Yi Bun, he’s expanding his product range and has recently launched an organic soy milk. “We’ve always used non-genetically modified soybeans and that’s the future I see. For a long time, tofu manufacturing was just about cutting costs and beating each other on price. That’s not what we want to do. The Canadian soybeans we use are superior in flavour and protein levels. They cost about 20 to 30 per cent more than the soybeans others are using, but we want to produce a healthy product, and we want to be here for the long run.

“It’s not just about profit margins. Every product should be something we’d be happy to feed our families.”