Kosher in Malaysia: San Soon Seng’s Diversification Success

San Soon Seng Food Industries Sdn Bhd ,  a Malaysian-based company, has been a prominent player in the food and beverage ingredients manufacturing industry since 1977, marking an impressive 46 years of operation. Initially starting as a liquid caramel manufacturer, San Soon Seng has expanded its product range over the years to include a wide array of food ingredients, such as caramel color, syrups, vinegars, soy protein, and more. With a commitment to quality and safety, San Soon Seng has obtained certifications like kosher and halal, ensuring the suitability of their products for various markets and customer preferences.

We spoke with Janice Fang, a manager at San Soon Seng Food Industries.

OU Kosher certified, San Soon Seng Food Industries Head Quarters

OU Kosher certified, San Soon Seng Food Industries Head Quarters in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, Malaysia

OU Kosher: Can you tell us about your background and role in the company?

Janice Fang:  I’ve been working with the company for the past 20 years. After I graduated this was my first job. With my chemistry background, I started in the quality department and now I’m also in charge of business development, handling a lot of our key customers. I was the one that started off applying for the OU Kosher certifications. And now I have a team that is managing the day-to-day operations and upkeep of the certification system.

OU Kosher: Could you give us an overview of your company and its main business and products?

Janice Fang: San Soon Seng Food Industries is actually a Malaysian-based company. We have been in the food and beverage ingredients manufacturing industry since 1977. This year marks our 46 years in business. We are a wholly-owned subsidiary of Three-A Resources Berhard, which is a public listed company in Bursa Malaysia. We originally established ourselves as a liquid caramel color manufacturer. That’s all we did in the early  years.

Gradually, through hard work and perseverance, we expanded our product range  to include other food ingredients such as, syrups like glucose syrup and high maltose syrup, vinegars, and soy protein sauce, which is also known as hydrolyzed vegetable protein. We also have golden syrup. We expanded into powdered form as well, producing caramel powder,maltodextrin and glucose syrup solids.

OU Kosher: Where do you source your ingredients? Are they local?

Janice Fang: A lot of our ingredients are imported. The major raw materials we use are starches like corn starch and cassava starch. We also use refined cane sugar. These are the few key ingredients we use, as well as soybean meal, which is used for the hydrolyzed vegetable protein products. So, except for the sugar, the rest of the major raw materials are imported.

OU Kosher: What about certifications for your products? Are they all OU Kosher certified?

Janice Fang:  All of our products are OU certified. Which means all the ingredients have to be kosher certified.

OU Kosher: Are you in charge of acquiring the raw materials and ensuring their certification?

Janice Fang: We have a team who is in charge of the procurements. Our company is also FSSC 22000 certified, which is a well-recognized food safety and quality management system. With that system, we have controls on procurement and supplier management. We incorporate kosher certification requirements into our food safety and quality system as well.

When it comes to purchasing and selecting sources, we have a list of criteria that need to be met. One of the requirements is kosher certification for the ingredients, so we ensure that the suppliers have it. Then our quality teams assess the certifications, qualities, and safety of the products before our procurement teams enter into commercial discussions with the suppliers.

OU Kosher: How often do you have to change your raw materials and ingredients?

Janice Fang: Not too often, I would say. We have a group of suppliers, and for our major ingredients, we usually have a couple of alternate suppliers. This ensures consistency of supplies and avoids any certification lapses that could disrupt our production.

OU Kosher: How do you check that the suppliers are still certified?

Janice Fang: We have a quality team in charge of supplier management. They have a checklist that they go through for all the ingredients approved for purchase from the suppliers. The suppliers are required to provide us with certifications for the ingredients, and we keep copies of those certifications. The certifications indicate expiry dates and other relevant information. We input this information into our tracking system, and our quality assurance (QA) team consistently monitors it. They will prompt the suppliers to provide new certifications three months before the expiry dates. If there are any issues in obtaining updated certificates, we will inform the procurement team to find another source as a backup if necessary.

OU Kosher: Do you know how long you’ve been kosher certified? How many years?

Janice Fang:  I believe it’s been around 15 years. Yes, we started pursuing kosher certification after I joined the company. When I came on board, I took charge of the certification applications.

OU Kosher: Do you know why your company decided to get kosher certification?

Janice Fang: We wanted to gain access to other markets, especially the US market, where kosher certification is a popular requirement. At that time, kosher certification was not widely recognized in Malaysia or Asia. We anticipated potential customer demands in the near future and believed that having kosher certification would substantially increase the marketability of our products in other regions.

OU Kosher: Who conducted the research and discovered the importance of kosher certification when it was not well-known in Malaysia?

Janice Fang: Actually, we had a customer who inquired about a couple of products and asked about kosher certification. Although the volume of their purchases was not significant at the time, we recognized the growing demand and wanted to expand our product offerings. The decision to pursue kosher certification was driven by our anticipation of future market trends.

OU Kosher: Are you primarily selling to American manufacturers in the United States?

Janice Fang: The United States is not our major export market. Our primary export market is in the Asia Pacific region. However, our company has been working with many multinational companies over the past 40 years. As a result, many of our ingredients end up in products that are sold in the US.

OU Kosher: Does kosher certification play a role in your European imports? Is it important in Europe as well?

Janice Fang: Yes, kosher certification is definitely important in Europe too. It is a popular and common requirement. If you don’t have kosher certification, it can limit your access to many markets and applications, especially for multinational companies. They need this certification for their ingredients to be used in their kosher certified products, which are sold in the US, Europe, and other regions.

OU Kosher: Is OU kosher certification specifically requested, or do companies generally ask for any kosher certification?

Janice Fang: While companies may not specifically ask for OU kosher certification, OU is one of the world’s largest and most widely recognized international kosher certification bodies. Having the OU logo on your products and certifications carries weight. If you have certifications from smaller certification bodies, you may face more questions and inquiries about their backgrounds. With OU, you don’t have those problems. It is a well-recognized certification.

OU Kosher: Is sustainability important to your organization? Are you personally involved in it?

Janice Fang: Yes, sustainability is becoming increasingly important to us. I am part of the team responsible for sustainability, and we have a dedicated committee for it. We focus on various aspects of sustainability within our organization.

OU Kosher: Does your company invest in research and development for new products?

Janice Fang: Yes, we invest in research and development for new products. Over the years, we have expanded our product portfolio from being a small liquid caramel producer to offering a variety of food ingredients. This expansion is a result of research, experience, and market demand.

OU Kosher: Can you mention any companies that use your caramel color in their products?

Janice Fang: I apologize, but we have confidential agreements with most of the multinational companies we work with, so we cannot disclose their names. We respect the confidentiality agreements we have in place.

OU Kosher: What kind of training do you provide for kosher certification and other certifications within your organization?

Janice Fang: Training is crucial for our employees to understand the requirements and background of kosher certification and other certifications. We have regular training sessions for food safety and quality, as well as specific targets for yearly training. Kosher certification is included as part of our control system, and we provide training to our workers to ensure they understand kosher laws, requirements, and the necessary procedures for procurement, quality control, and receiving. We also share new information through emails, memorandums, and notifications, and for more complex topics.

OU Kosher: Have you ever encountered someone who understands vegan certification but doesn’t understand kosher certification? How do you explain what kosher is?

Janice Fang: Yes, that did happen when we first obtained kosher certification many years ago. Some people were unfamiliar with the concept of kosher and didn’t know what it entailed, including the Jewish dietary laws and requirements. However, over the years, as our employees gained more knowledge and experience, they passed on that knowledge and trained others.

OU Kosher: Did you personally know anything about kosher before pursuing kosher certification? Were you familiar with it?

Janice Fang: Initially, I had a general understanding that kosher certification related to Jewish dietary requirements. However, when we received the requirements, I started researching online and selected OU as our certification body. I went through their website and read the guidance provided, which was precise and clear. This helped me understand the requirements, the necessary documents and forms, and what to expect throughout the certification process. Overall, the certification process was smooth and clear, simple and efficient. However, for most of our employees, had little knowledge or exposure to kosher or kosher food.

OU Kosher: Is there any similarity between kosher and halal certification?

Janice Fang: We are also halal certified, so there are some similarities between the two certifications. However, they are not the same. Some requirements are specific to halal and not required for kosher, and vice versa. There are differences in certain controls and documentations.

OU Kosher: As someone who deals with important food safety requirements, what part of your job do you find the most challenging?

Janice Fang: I would say all aspects of my job are challenging. In terms of food safety and quality requirements, constant customer demands, new regulations and standards changes. We need to stay updated and sometimes upgrade our facilities to meet these new requirements. This poses challenges throughout our entire system.

OU Kosher: How do you attract new business and inform other food manufacturers about your products?

Janice Fang: We have our website where we publish information about our products. People can reach out to us through our website. Additionally, our sales team actively engages in business visits and reaches out to potential customers. Over the years, we have built trust and long-term relationships with many multinational food manufacturers. This has led to referrals and expansion into different locations. Trust and reputation have played a significant role in attracting new customers.

OU Kosher: What sets your company apart from others that produce similar products? What makes you different?

Janice Fang: One major differentiating factor is that we have all the necessary certifications in place. Our products are kosher certified, giving customers confidence that they can safely use our products in their applications. We also have halal certification and certification from our Ministry of Health. In terms of product quality and safety, we meet high standards. We also prioritize close communication with our customers, understanding their needs, and providing technical support when required. Many of our customers have been with us for years, and we strive to build long-term relationships. Additionally, we offer customization of products to meet specific requirements, which sets us apart from others.

OU Kosher: Do you develop and customize products for specific companies?

Janice Fang: Yes, we do a lot of product customization. When customers have specific requirements and need tailored products, we work closely with them to develop and refine the products. We provide assistance in applications to meet their specific needs. We have engaged in projects lasting one or two years to ensure the final product meets their unique requirements.

OU Kosher: Can you share the most important thing you would tell companies looking for suppliers?

Janice Fang: I would emphasize that they should look at our quality products and the certifications we hold, as using our products ensures safety. We provide services and work closely with our customers to meet their needs and ensure their products are safe. In the current world, food safety is a critical issue, and we aim to prevent product recalls or negative publicity. The importance of safety and quality cannot be overstated.

OU Kosher: That’s great to hear, and it’s clear that trust and food safety are essential in your business, just like in kosher certification. And building trust takes time but can last for generations. Is there anything else you would like to add for other companies?

Janice Fang: If there is anything else that companies would like to know about our company, they are welcome to approach us. I would also like to express my appreciation and compliment OU Kosher for the very good support and cooperation we have built up over the years. We have had a very positive experience working with OU in an honest and frank manner. While I cannot speak for other certification bodies as I have not worked with them, I can share that the visiting rabbi provided valuable advice. He thoroughly understood our production processes, ingredients, and operations, and gave honest opinions that guided us in making informed decisions. We truly appreciate his clear and honest communication.

OU Kosher: Thank you for sharing your positive experiences, and I’m glad to hear that working with OU has been valuable for your company. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for your time.

Janice Fang: Thank you as well. It was my pleasure.