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Monday, September 03, 2018, 11:56
Appetite for growth
By Low Shi Ping in Singapore
Monday, September 03, 2018, 11:56 By Low Shi Ping in Singapore

After expansion to the Philippines this year, Indonesian bread entrepreneur targets China, Myanmar and India

In a recently launched book by broadcast journalist Karen Lam is a chapter dedicated to Wendy Yap. 

It is likely that anyone from Indonesia will know the business that Yap runs: Nippon Indosari Corpindo.


Specifically, it is the company behind the famous Sari Roti brand of bread that is distributed in the major cities and towns throughout the country. 

In the book, Power Talk: Insights from Asia’s Leading Entrepreneurs, published by World Scientific, Lam writes: “When I first met Yap, I was struck by her porcelain-fine skin and bright eyes … She was welcoming and wore a perpetual smile. She laughed easily.”

Those observations are spot on. And yet there is so much more to Yap. Beneath her perfect coiffeur and coordinated ensemble is a strong business sense coupled with a heart for her countrymen. 

Since taking the helm in 1998, she has grown Sari Roti to become the undisputed leader in mass-market bread in Indonesia, with a 90 percent market share.

Sari Roti has 10 manufacturing facilities located in various parts of the country, such as Java and Sumatra. Collectively, it produces 4.5 million pieces of bread per day, in 100 different types from wheat bread to cream buns, and distributes through 67,000 points of sale.

But Yap is not resting on her achievements. When asked what she is busy with these days, her response is succinct. “Expansion.”

Last year, global investment firm KKR acquired a 15.2 percent slice of the Sari Roti loaf, valued at around US$100 million.

“We reached overcapacity at the beginning of this year. With the rights issue, we can now build five new additional factories over the next five years,” Yap said.

“We have had a lot of suitors who wanted to invest in us over the last few years, but KKR was the best because it was willing to pay a premium for the investment and provide value-add by tapping its existing resources in Indonesia to expand Sari Roti faster.”

In fact, three of those five manufacturing facilities will be completed by next year. “We were being very conservative when we said ‘five plants over five years’. It is faster than that.”

Also, in April this year, Sari Roti made the first foray in what Yap said is a bigger overseas expansion plan. It entered the Philippines with a bang, signing celebrity Kris Aquino as a brand endorser and retailing in 420 supermarkets within the first two months. 

That the Filipinos have similar taste buds to the Indonesians was an important factor — both enjoy sweeter types of foods. 

“We didn’t expect sales to be so fast, and (the factory we built there) started running out of raw materials,” Yap said with a big laugh. “Now we are back on par.”

Opting for a joint venture model, Sari Roti teamed up with Monde Nissin Corporation to create SariMonde Foods. Among the reasons for its choice was the latter’s existing distribution network of 300,000 general trade stores. 

“Our experience in the Philippines showed us that we can set up a factory internationally and our bread will be well accepted. 

“I believe if we adapt to the taste of the consumer in every market, and have a good partner with good distribution channels, we can set up a factory there.”

Other countries on her radar at the moment include China, Myanmar and India. Their common thread: sizable domestic markets.

Yet, all of this looking outwards does not detract from Yap’s No 1 priority, her home country. “Eighty percent of the Indonesian bread market — made up of the home industry and boutique players — is untapped,” she said. 

She does plan for Sari Roti to grow domestically, but on a more organic path, just as the brand has always done since day one.

Indosari was established in 1995 by Yap’s father Piet Yap, after she returned from the United States.

Yap Senior was a valued executive of Sudono Salim, the businessman who became known as Indonesia’s richest individual. Together, the pair cofounded the Bogasari Flour Mills, from which noodles were made.

“My father changed the eating habits of the whole nation from rice to flour-based products,” said Yap.

With the raw material already available, she believed that producing bread would not be a major challenge. And she was determined that it be mass-market, packaged bread — something unavailable in Indonesia at that time. 

She envisioned the bread to be soft like in Japan, individually packed, and with a shelf life of five days. 

Specifically, Indosari sought a joint venture with Pasco Shikishima Corporation, the oldest bread company in Japan, and adopted its technology where 80 percent of the process is automated.

Sari Roti’s true growth potential surfaced two years later, during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, when all the bread sold out.

“Everyone wanted to stay indoors and was afraid of running out of food. Our bread (was most in demand because it) could last for five days,” Yap said.

In 2005, Indosari set up its second factory in East Java and Yap thought “that was it”. She was wrong. The facility hit full capacity in just over a year. From there, things “snowballed”. 

Today, Indonesians are eating bread throughout the day, for its sheer convenience.

“When I did bread, I didn’t know it would change the eating habits of a nation … You cannot put a bowl of noodles inside your handbag. Bread is perfect for the lifestyle of the Indonesians who are getting busier.” 

As well as adapting to the evolving lifestyles of Indonesians today, Yap is proud of the strong foundation laid for Indosari, in corporate governance, compliance and professionalism.

There are training centers for bakers and the sales team, and standard operating procedures for everything — something she learned when she owned and ran the franchise for the US fast-food chain Wendy’s in Indonesia and China before joining Indosari.

“We managed to stick to our three Hs: hygienic, halal, healthy. That was my vision from the beginning.”

And it is not just about making money. Yap has a pet project she named Miss Sari. It allows homemaker mothers who need extra income to earn some money by selling Sari Roti bread in the wet markets when their children are at school.

“They dress in Mbak Sari (Miss Sari) uniforms, and bring the trolleys with bread to sell and earn extra money.”

As one of the few female business leaders in Indonesia, the obvious question is whether or not she has faced gender-related hurdles. Her answer is no. 

“I grew up in a man’s world,” she said. “My father made me the president of his company in the US when I was 20. 

“At that time, there were some men who were not so accepting of women, but because I was my father’s representative, they had to deal with it.”

She remembers tagging along with him for business dinners and meetings. Once, he left the room to make a call, leaving her alone with the meeting attendees.

“After they finished asking me about school and my favorite subjects, it was time to move on. So I turned around and started asking them questions.

“Since you asked me questions, I have a right to ask you questions. I was very curious as a kid.”

Yap admitted to always being “the naughty one who would always ask the questions” — something which got her into trouble when she moved from an international school in Hong Kong to a local school in Singapore. 

Years later, “when we moved to Singapore with my kids … they all went to the Singapore American School.”

Probe any further into her life outside of Sari Roti and you will find she is intensely private. She expertly steers the conversation back to her business, rattling off a long list of plans, such as producing cakes and pastries as new product categories. 

She dreams of exporting cakes to Japan and South Korea, and supplying bread to institutions, hotels, restaurants and airlines. Developing complementary products like jam and chocolate is also on the cards.

“We will grow internationally with the right partner, and grow organically in Indonesia. There is still a lot of opportunity.”


Wendy Yap

President-director and CEO, Nippon Indosari Corpindo

Quick takes:

What is your leadership style?

I do not micromanage. Instead, I prefer to get involved in the vision and strategy aspect of the business — the macro part — before passing them on to my team to do the execution. But then I also ensure I follow up with what I’ve asked them to do.

What keeps you up at night?

Few things keep me up at night. But I work late because I want to grow the company. The foundations are already in place, but the growth potential is enormous. We are only serving close to 20 percent of the market. I am constantly thinking about how to get our Sari Roti bread to every consumer in Indonesia … and then I go to sleep.

You have been honored as one of the most powerful businesswomen in Asia by Forbes Asia, Forbes Indonesia, Globe Asia, and Indonesian media. How do you feel about these accolades?

I feel privileged and honored to be awarded with these titles. I feel it is a part of my destiny which is God-driven and purposed. I also think they only noticed me because the company grew big in such a short time. 

When I wanted to list Sari Roti in 2010 in Indonesia, my partner told me nobody lists a company selling only bread. I insisted on doing it because I believe that the bread we sell is good and for the masses. From there, people probably started to wonder how a bread company can come so far. When they looked at the person behind it, they must have then found me.

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