Food for the Soul

Jocelyn Chng takes inspiration from God and her family to tide through the rough moments.

Illustrations by Idea Ink

You can tell by the way she talks about food, she is very passionate about it. Jocelyn Chng, founder and CEO of JR Group says that she even day dreams about new innovative ways to make her food tastier and more nutritious. 

JR Group is a food and beverage company that operates restaurants, catering and Singapore’s first ever hot food vending machine that dispenses JR’s convenience food, Chef-in-Box. The Chef-in-Box bento meals are ready meals that make use of advanced cook-chill and cook-freeze technology to seal in the nutrients. Just heat up and a nutritious meal is ready to be served.  

But the road to success was a difficult one for Chng. Things did not fall in place nicely, especially not at the beginning. There were even several life events that caused her to want to give up entirely. 

WOMAN spoke to Chng to find out more about her journey and how she became the woman she is today. 

“I think what’s most important is to prioritise your time, and give different focus to what we have to do”

Share with us your journey of how you started your business and how it has grown to what it is today?

I have always been in the food business. [Apart from JR Group] I also own another food and beverage business, Sin Hwa Dee, where we manufacture sauces and export them to over 40 cities under the brand Chng Kee. That business was started by my parents and I took over that about 32 years ago. 

I started JR with my late-husband in 2001, with the aim to produce good, nutritious and healthy food for the next generation. We expanded and grew since then from manufacturing to business-to-business food supply, institution catering and also ready-to-eat meals. Our latest thing is the vending machine, where we use the vending machines as a channel of distribution for our ready-to-eat meals. 

What inspired you to start your business? 

It is really about the passion [for food] and the love I have for the people around me that inspired me to get into this business. I’m not working for myself, I’m working for everyone around me.

I have three sons and I want to ensure that they can get whatever meal they like at any time of the day, and at the same time, staying away from junk food. I want to feed them with good food. Even I stock up Chef-in-Box products in my freezer so that my children will always have nutritious food to eat. 

So, whenever I encounter challenges and frustration, I always bring myself back to where I started and what was my vision. It helps me to refocus and work better. 

What are the biggest challenges in the initial stages of your company? And how did you overcome them?

At the start, it was just my husband and I. We did not have much resources, in terms of manpower and money, at the beginning. Therefore, we went to the government and told them our dream. At that time, the government had a pilot to help SMEs and startups, and we were able to lease a production facility from the government. With that, we even managed to ship some of our food items out of Singapore. 

That went on for nearly a year, and then the government had a change in direction. We were one day given a letter and told that we can no longer use the facility. We were stuck, as we had orders to fulfil. At that time, we were just so disappointed and upset. We were even thinking of shutting our business, because what was the point if we didn’t have the resources?

But it was the encouragement from the people around us that pushed us to continue. We dipped into our savings and whatever resources we had and invested in a central kitchen. It was not an easy journey, but overall a smooth one. After procuring the central kitchen, we managed to get the business back and running very fast. 

Another challenge for me was when my husband passed away during the initial years of our business. I was in grief and again at a crossroad, I had to decide on whether to give up the business or continue without him.

Through all that, I became stronger and so did the company because we have been through several crises. 

What would be your advice to women entrepreneurs out there who are finding it hard to break the glass ceiling?

I think as women, we are always wearing several hats – we have to be a mother, wife, sister, daughter, as well as be a career woman. As a single mother, it is tough. I think what’s most important is to prioritise your time, and give different focus to what we have to do, but also taking into account the different seasons in our life as a woman. 

There are several “P’s” that I live by: passion, positivity, prayers, (striking) partnerships, and pushing ourselves, purpose and peace. 

What are some of your future goals? 

As I grow the company, I want to see the people around me grow too, in every aspect in their lives. That will definitely make me very happy and is probably one of my personal goals. 

And of course, food being the centre of my life, I would really love to see the company transforming the lives of many by giving them easier access to healthy and nutritious food. This will bring about less sickness and illnesses, and everyone can enjoy more together. 

Illustrations by Idea Ink