Insights + interviews

In conversation with Andy Ong, Pearlie White about being ‘made in Singapore’

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Pearlie White is a brand rich in Singapore history and heritage. Pearlie White is also the only brand that continues to operate its oral care manufacturing facilities solely within Singapore.

Being a local family business, Andy had taken over the business of dental care provision from his grandfather, Dr. Cheong Chun Tin, the founder of Pearlie White and first practitioner of dentistry in Singapore.

The Active Age (TAA) speaks with Mr. Andy Ong (AO), Managing Director of Pearlie White about the challenges of being a Singapore brand, building trust with his customers as well as his goal of having people across the world interact with his product.

TAA: Tell us about Pearlie White.

AO: Pearlie White is the only home grown Singapore oral care brand and also the only brand that continues to operate oral care manufacturing facilities in our country.

Firstly an interesting fact. My great grandfather, Cheong Chun Tin, was the first dentist in Singapore way back in 1869. That’s in the record books and yes, there’s a road named after him, Chun Tin Road in the Bukit Timah district.

But my company didn’t start Pearlie White®right away. In fact we started as a distributor for another oral care brand. Over the years, we grew sales of that brand to a several million dollars. In 2001, the owner of the brand sold it off to a big pharmaceutical company and they discarded distributors globally. It was really tough because we lost almost two thirds of our revenue in a matter of months. At that time, we could have stuck with the status quo and took on another brand to distribute. But we decided to take a leap of faith and created Pearlie White®, which remains Singapore’s only oral care brand, 100% Singapore owned, and also the only oral care brand that still manufactures in our country.

The main goal of Pearlie White remains, till today, to provide intelligent oral care solutions to consumers who are looking for the extraordinary.

As such, it is our belief that no harmful ingredients should be found in our products, and products should not be tested on animals. With over 40 oral care products in the range, Pearlie White caters to oral care needs as diverse as teeth whitening, tooth sensitivity and gum care. Our products include toothpastes, toothbrushes, mouth rinse, floss, interdental brushes, portable dental care products, home use dental tools and denture care products.

TAA: Being a Singapore brand, what have been some of the challenges building the brand both here and internationally?

AO: In both local and foreign markets, we face brands that focus on economies of scale and low production costs.

You will see American brands with products made in China, European brands in India, Japanese brands in Thailand and as a result of their low unit costs, they have much higher budgets to spend on marketing than we do.

We are trying keep it authentic. Therefore, we continue to produce all our core products like toothpastes and mouth rinses in Singapore for local and global consumption. That also means that we keep all operations and employment within Singapore; and in turn, keep all profits in our country and within our economy.

At Pearlie White, we choose People. We do agree we are far less productive all because we employ more people at certain portions of our production instead of letting machinery take over, at ten times the pace.

We can obviously purchase equipment to handle the process and lower costs, but that does not create more jobs. It takes the collective effort of our entire team right here to bring a ‘Made In Singapore’ product to life, and to deliver a real piece of uniquely Singapore to the rest of the world. And we will always stay true to our belief and promise to keep it all in Singapore.

TAA: What are some of the highlights/milestones that the brand has achieved?

AO: Pearlie White recently achieved the ISO 22716 GMP certification in April 2015. We are the first and only manufacturing facility for oral care products in Singapore to receive this certification.

Certified by the International Standards Organisation, ISO 22716 GMP establishes the standard for production, control, storage and shipment of oral care products, as well as covers the quality aspects of the manufacturing process and finished products.

Pearlie White

We are extremely pleased to have been awarded the certification and it is a reflection of our commitment to achieving only the highest standards for our manufacturing process, which we will maintain and improve in the years to come, right here in Singapore.

TAA: What’s the background for the tagline ‘Made in Singapore, by Singapore, for Singapore’?

AO: As an organisation, we aim to be different from other oral care brands. We strongly believe in both the hardware and heartware of things. Unlike other brands, we state clearly what ingredients our toothpaste are, and ensure that they contain no harsh ingredients like sodium lauryl sulphate, saccharin, parabens, triclosan or artificial colouring. That’s the hardware.

On the heartware front, we present the aspirations of Singapore. We have a guiding motto to be a brand that Singapore can trust. We focus on a thinking, wholesome, value-focused range of products that are developed and made locally, with uncompromising quality.

Our latest variant, The Real Red® which was launched recently, actually bears the lion head symbol that proudly promotes our national identity. The newest addition to the range is also the brand’s most affordable variant yet, made readily accessible to value-conscious consumers.

TAA: What are some of the ways that Pearlie White is moving forward as a company?

AO: Some upcoming trends are really obvious.

As an example, consumers hate artificial coloring in their food right? So why is there artificial coloring in toothpaste? Nobody wants blue teeth. And if ingredients like Titanium Dioxide are in toothpaste just to make toothpaste white (as opposed to making teeth white), what is the purpose of it in toothpaste? So we’re betting big that consumers are going to become more discerning about what’s in their oral care products just like the food they eat. And so our entire range of toothpastes does not contain any artificial coloring.

On innovation, we have an objective to partner with Singapore industry and institutions and build capabilities together. As an example, we worked with Republic Polytechnic’s team from their School of Applied Sciences to prove the remineralization effects of our fluoride-free A.R.T. Active Remineralization Toothpaste.

TAA: How do you plan to have Pearlie White continue to be a Singapore brand while becoming more relevant for an international customer audience?

AO: We definitely have some plans in the pipeline to continue building awareness for Pearlie White as both a Singapore brand while reaching out to international markets.

We want the brand name to be a synonym for Singapore’s only homegrown maker of oral care brands. We are focused on delivering a Singapore made product/experience to people around the world. People around the world interact with other countries every day. We use mobile phones and watch K-pop dramas from Korea, our car brands are mainly from Japan or Germany, wear clothes from UK/Spain, use software from the USA, carry products from Italy.

I believe a country is great only when people across the world interact with your country every day, and that’s what we are trying to achieve for Singapore with Pearlie White.

TAA: Do you have any interesting anecdotes about building the Pearlie White brand in Singapore?

AO: From our location, to our team members, to our marketing campaigns, we are always aligned with our vision and objectives to build Pearlie White as a local brand to appeal to Singapore customers.

Our office, warehousing and manufacturing facilities are all located in Ang Mo Kio, the quintessential heartland known for its strong neighbourly relationships and shops which have been operating since the town was built. Three quarters of our team members actually stay around the estate and take no more than 15 minutes to get to work each day.

Our latest campaign for The Real Red®, another product proudly made in Singapore, carries a significant message in tandem to our cause. For its launch in July this year, we commissioned Singaporean photographer Chia Aik Beng to capture real Singaporean smiles in his signature street documentary style. He spent a week roving the streets of local town areas, producing photographs without the use of digital enhancements. We want to let our people know that their smiles, no matter the size, shape or colour, will be celebrated by a homegrown commodity shared by fellow citizens.

At Pearlie White, we keep it real.



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