May 16, 2011 • By

It started with dumplings

In my work, as I learn more about the brands of General Mills, I find that I’m drawn to the creation story of a business or product. Knowing how it got its start, out of a single idea or one person’s plan, helps me connect its history to its present.

One of General Mills’ most interesting global brands right now is Wanchai Ferry. The story of its humble beginnings proves your first path for your life isn’t always your only path.

In the late 1970s, Chong Kin Wo, who had been working as a nurse, moved to Hong Kong with her two young daughters. She took three jobs to help support her girls, including some cleaning work. But after she got injured at one of her jobs, and then learning she had diabetes, her future outlook for work and a career of any kind was bleak.

As she recovered from her injury, friends urged the woman they called Madame Chong to consider making her homemade dumplings as a business.

So in 1978, she set up a wooden cart at the Wanchai Ferry pier in Hong Kong to sell her dumplings.

Madame Chong soon discovered that her dumplings were in demand.

She told us, “At that time in Hong Kong, unlike the people in China, locals in Hong Kong did not eat dumplings as a regular meal. Surprisingly, my handmade dumplings were accepted by so many of my customers in Hong Kong. Many of them came because they were referred by their friends or their relatives. Even visitors from other countries bought my dumplings.”

One day, the daughter of a Japanese department store owner enjoyed Madame Chong’s dumplings so much that she told her father about them. He made contact with Madame Chong and helped put her on the path toward mass production in her first dumpling factory. In 1985, she formed the Wanchai Ferry Peking Dumpling Company.

Today, the Wanchai Ferry brand includes authentic frozen dumplings, tangyuan, wontons, and other types of Chinese frozen dim sum in China. It quickly became a hit in Chinese supermarkets. And it now has several manufacturing plants to produce all the Wanchai Ferry products.

The brand became part of General Mills in 1997. And, in 2007, it became our first effort to introduce international products to the United States when a line of Wanchai Ferry dinner kits was launched. Frozen Wanchai Ferry dinner kits followed in 2009.

Madame Chong is still involved in the business. She visits the company’s plants quite often. And tastes and approves flavor profiles, including the products introduced in the U.S.

“Yes, I insist on producing delicious, high-quality food through meticulous preparation, using the best ingredients, carefully listening to consumer feedback and constant innovation,” says Madame Chong. “Therefore, I am involved in development of new products, seeking continuous improvement of the product formulation and giving my professional opinions. I believe in trust and loyalty and working as a responsible working partner with General Mills.”

As I researched Madame Chong for this post, I learned that a movie has been made about her life. She also has written and published an autobiography and has shared her story, on her blog.

Editor’s note: To learn more about the Wanchai Ferry business, you can read this article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.