Singapore Brands Going Overseas: Heritage Brands Gone Global


Growing up in an Asian household meant that you would most likely find all sorts of traditional balms and oils for various purposes in the back of your medicine cabinet. In this Singapore Brands Going Overseas series, we take a closer look at how heritage brands Chop Wah On, Lotus Leaf Brand and Three Star Brand have evolved their products and leveraged on digital technologies to expand their reach to the wider audience. 

19 January 2021 / By SGN

Whether you’ve got a blocked nose, an itchy mosquito bite or you’re having the runs, mom’s got you covered (quite literally) with her arsenal of medicated oils and balms. Chop Wah On, Lotus Leaf Brand and Three Star Brand are quintessential in the medicine cabinets of most Asian households – and even till today, remains as one of the first few things we gravitate towards whenever we feel nauseous, sick, or just want a sniff of nostalgia.

Heritage brands like these medicated oils and balms have been around for generations and are trusted in most Asian families around the world to provide care, healing, and comfort. Today, these once unique to Asia brands have increased their reach on a global scale with the use of digital and e-commerce platforms.

If you’ve ever travelled or lived abroad, you’d be happy to know that you can readily purchase traditional oils and balms at online marketplaces. Throwback just a decade ago, these oils and balms are nearly as scarce as the number bottles of kaya and sauce packets that we’d pack in our luggage.


Expanding Eastern Remedies to the West

The third and fourth generation(left) leading Three Star Brand are reinventing their products to appeal to the younger market, starting with its New Generation Aroma Medicated Oil range (right). Photo Credit: Three Star Brand

Three Star Brand underwent a major restructuring in 2017 – during which, the owners realised a shift in shopping behaviour from offline to online. Business Development Director Tan Yu Chuan shared that this led to the heritage brand’s decision to partner with e-commerce platforms such as Shopee, Lazada and most recently Amazon, which they say, have significantly increased their reach. They have also implemented a 360-marketing approach which includes livestreams, key opinion leader engagements and digital marketing initiatives.

“We’ve also tapped on Enterprise Singapore grants such as the Market Readiness Assistance (MRA), which have greatly supported our entry into new overseas markets, and the E-Commerce Booster Package to expand our local reach,” Yu Chuan says. The heritage brand is also looking at opportunities to tap into new overseas market through the Multichannel E-Commerce Platform (MEP) Programme and the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG).

Heritage brands like Lotus Leaf Brand have started to carve out an online presence for themselves – starting with partnering with e-commerce sites and connecting with customers via social media. Photo Credit: Lotus Leaf Brand

In the past, brands often relied on the power of word of mouth to carve a name for themselves. However, Miss Lim Pei Yi, second-generation owner of Lotus Leaf Brand echoes that such methods are long lost in history. “Technology is all around us now. We realised that people are very digitally savvy, even the older generations are learning basic technology. In order to get more exposure for our products, we cannot just rely on word of mouth,” she says.

This realisation to set the business on an online track was brought on amidst Singapore’s COVID-19 circuit breaker, which saw retail businesses halting operations. To create a stronger online presence, Lotus Leaf Brand has concentrated efforts to increase their online presence on social media platforms and e-commerce sites, on top of applying for digital payments via their business bank account.

Being over 100 years old, Chop Wah On is one of Singapore’s first and oldest medicated oil brand and balm manufacturer! The left image gives a glimpse at how its shophouse at Chinatown looks like in the 1930s, and the right image shows the shophouse today! Photo Credit: Chop Wah On

Tong Kok Wing, Director of Chop Wah On and also the grandson of its founder, Tong Chee Leong, tells us that the traditional brand is actively working with various courier services to deliver products in Singapore and across the globe. The third-generation family busines is also in the process of developing their very own e-commerce website, which is set to launch by the end of the year – and Kok Wing is hopeful that this will help them connect with more customers.

Kok Wing’s father (pictured), Tong Seng Mun, and his beloved pet tiger cub, Margaret, who he kept at the Chop Wah On shop in Chinatown. This was a during a period of time where animal conservation movements were not yet present, and some wildlife species were commonly kept as pets. Photo Credit: Chop Wah On

“We are also present on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, where we share about our products, brand updates and stories about our shop,” Kok Wing says. One such story dates back to the 1950s and tells of the shop’s beloved pet tiger cub, Margaret, who was kept at their flagship shop in Chinatown – talk about nostalgic!


A City-Dweller’s Day to Night Routine with Our Heritage Brands

Good morning! There’s nothing like starting your morning with a little perk me up courtesy of Three Star Brand Aroma Med Oil – we recommend the Lemon or Grapefruit scent to uplift your mood before you go on to tackle the day!

Getting your daily dose of exercise can help keep us fit and healthy. Before you head off for a morning jog around the nearby park, protect yourself from the mozzies with Lotus Leaf Brand Roll-On Mosquito Repellent!

Muscle and joint aches after a workout can leave us feeling sluggish the whole day. Soothe those aching muscles while on the go with Three Star Brand Medicated Oil, Three Star Brand Herbal Medicated Patch or Lotus Leaf Brand Gold Lion Rheumatic Oil. Now you can go off for that meeting feeling 10/10!

Feeling unwell could hinder you from living your day – Chop Wah On’s Shake Hand Brand Eucalyptus Embrocation relieves common cold symptoms, insect bites and stings. If you’ve got a little tummy trouble, reach out for Wah On Nutmeg Embrocation which relieves stomach wind and cramps!

P.S. Please practice social responsibility by visiting a doctor if you have common cold symptoms!

Relaxing after a long day is a must for us city-dwellers. Did you know that Chop Oh Wan carries its own skincare series as well? Pamper yourself with the Shake Hand Brand Miracle CrocOil Facial Sheet Mask that is said to help one improve their complexion and skin texture!

Your hair is what you wear on the daily. Keep them healthy with Lotus Leaf Brand Hair Oil which is formulated to improve hair growth and prevent itchiness and hair fall!

In every Asian household, there’s nothing that traditional balms and ointments can’t fix. Even as digital adoption skyrockets and transforms the way we work and live, these traditional brands continue to evolve their product offerings and keep their hearts centred on the preservation of our deep-rooted culture. What’s your family’s go-to balm and ointment?


Don’t stop here, check out these other great reads…

From Army Captain to Recruitment MD: Andrew McNeilis Shares Expert Job Search Tips
Why do some candidates get selected over others? Andrew McNeilis, MD of …
My Tidying Epiphany
It has been a long 2021, and while the new normal is …
Meet the Singaporean Furniture Mavericks Making a Statement on Contemporary Living
It’s not just about cutting-edge design, it’s a way of living. Joshua …
Meet Vanessa Tan, the Tech in Asia Journalist turned Xiaomi Marketing Maestro
When Vanessa Tan joined the founding team at Tech in Asia as …
Going Green from the Red Dot: How Vikas Garg is Empowering Sustainable Consumption with abillion
Singapore is a gastronomical city-state where enjoying good food is a shared …
A taste of home away from home: three food entrepreneurs finding success in the US with SG tastes
Indelibly interwoven with the story of Singapore is the story of our …
The Struggles of Two Generations in Singapore
Caught between his parents’ traditional expectations and new opportunities offered to him …
5Qs with Zhang Jingna, Fashion and Fine Art Photographer
From air rifle gold medalist to Forbes 30 Under 30 fashion photographer, …
Discovery. 发现. Découverte.
Born and raised in Singapore, Juliette explores the world with curiosity and …
Lights, Camera, Advice: Filmmaker Thomas Lim on Success in Showbiz and Life
Singaporean director Thomas Lim, Head of Sun Entertainment Culture Los Angeles, recounts …
Memories of Singapore @ Home
This National Day, we brought the world together to experience a slice …
Meet Daniel Riegler, the Karana Co-founder Creating Asia’s First Plant-based Meat Alternative Using Jackfruit
American Daniel Riegler, co-founder of Singapore-based Karana, tells us how they differentiate …