Shawn Lim
Dec 5, 2023

Accenture Song gives hawkers a second chance at longevity in poignant new documentary

The aptly-named 'Second Servings' is an urgent appeal by the consultancy encouraging locals to protect their unique heritage and hawker culture in Singapore.

Accenture Song gives hawkers a second chance at longevity in poignant new documentary

Accenture Song has released a documentary entitled 'Second Servings', featuring Singaporean hawkers and the local hawker scene—an integral and vibrant part of the nation's culture. 

The 46-minute film, directed by Reshma Ailmchandani, showcases how the consultancy has harnessed the traditional practices of hawkers country-wide, and enabled them to modernise and reinvent themselves through the aid of technology and re-branding. 

'Second Servings' focuses on the stories of three hawker stalwarts: A vadai maker, an elderly couple selling chicken rice, and a char kway teow master.  

The film showcases the challenges local hawkers face including an ageing hawker population, rising operational costs, and rapidly changing consumer preferences, all threatening the sustainability of Singapore's hawker culture, a Unesco Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

Led by Johnny Tan, Accenture Song's Southeast Asia chief creative officer, a team of creatives, designers, strategists, and technologists worked closely with the three chosen hawkers out of more than 140 that applied over 10 months, to develop relevant digital marketing and product innovation strategies. 

"We realised that many small businesses, especially hawkers, struggled significantly. We had been focusing all our energy on big brands, so we decided to use our skill sets to help these smaller businesses," Tan tells Campaign at the screening of the documentary. 

"This was the beginning of our initiative. We then conducted a massive casting call, reaching out to various diversity groups, including different genders and races, to find the right people who needed help and were open to change. Not all hawkers are receptive to change; some can be pretty resistant. However, we identified those willing to adapt and used them to inspire others." 

Johnny Tan

Tan insists the documentary is not a vanity project, but rather, the film aims to address the significant issue of how hawkers deem tech as beyond their reach. 

Tan also notes that some hawkers would rather shut their stalls than consider embracing technology, which the film addresses, showing that tech and marketing are not as intimidating or complex as they seem.  

"Our goal is to influence a change in mindset, from a few hawkers to hundreds and eventually thousands. We want to continue offering solutions to any hawkers who approach us. We are collaborating with the National Heritage Board (NHB). With their support, we can extend our help to even more people," says Tan. 

How Accenture Song helped each hawker

Accenture Song rebranded hawker Gina Rajan's vadai store called 'Gina's Vadai' to appeal to a younger audience with a brand and packaging makeover, collaborations for unique Singaporean dips like salted egg, chilli crab, and rojak, and pairings with local craft beer.  

Accenture Song say its efforts have led to a significant increase in the store's social media following, and a 15% rise in sales for Rajan. 

For Frankie Yeow and Jane of 'Hwa Kee Lemon Chicken Rice', the focus was to reposition their business. Song helped them integrate digital payment gateways and food delivery services to enhance their reach and ease of transactions.  

They also assisted in relaunching the shop and introducing new soup offerings. Accenture Song claims these changes have resulted in a 25% increase in sales. 

Finally, for Tan Boon Kiat of 'Armenian Street Char Kway Teow', who was facing the challenge of preserving his dish for future generations, Accenture Song used robotic arms and digital capture to document the preparation of his stir-fried flat rice noodles.  

Gina Rajan

Documenting the preparation aimed to create a resource pool for hawker fare, ensuring the longevity of these culinary traditions. 

Johnny Tan admits from day one, the experience of putting together is this project has been
incredibly humbling." The team initially had straightforward solutions in mind, like the simple task of onboarding the hawkers onto delivery services. However, once they delved into each of the businesses, they realised the hawkers had challenges of narrow profit margins and limited resources, which meant that there would not be a one-size-fits-all situation.  

(L-R) Jane and Frankie Yeow of Hwa Kee Lemon Chicken Rice

Each business required a customised, practical solution with longevity, something they could sustain without significant investment, while maintaining their bottom line. 

"With Gina's Vadai, we didn't want to change its essence but rather explore how to open up new markets and occasions. With Hwa Kee, it was about returning to basics, focusing on what made them unique and famous before they followed mainstream trends. We encouraged them to rediscover and develop their unique selling points," explains Johnny Tan. 

"Uncle Tan's situation was particularly unique. Unlike hawkers who talked about their struggles, he spoke of his daughter's success and questioned why he should pull her from her job. He was more concerned about preserving the future of traditional food for his grandchildren, noticing the decline in conventional hawkers." 

Johnny Tan continues: "This led us to think about using technology from the film and gaming industries to capture the essence of conventional hawker food, preserving it for future generations. Each hawker required a completely different solution, and that's how we approached it, deeply diving into each one's business, understanding their ambitions, and crafting tailored solutions." 

Not just about tech

With the buzz around AI at the moment, there is a temptation for agencies to adopt tech that might be too expensive or impractical for their clients. Johnny Tan explains the critical factor Accenture Song considered was the practicality of the solutions for the hawkers, ensuring they do not require a significant investment.  

For example, food delivery services can expand a hawker's reach. However, if it leads to longer wait times for walk-in customers—say, from three to eight minutes for a plate of chicken rice—it could harm the business by turning customers away. A viable solution might be to use food delivery at specific times of the day when it is most efficient. 

(L-R) Johnny Tan explaining to Tan Boon Kiat how the robot is cooking the noodles

"This level of consideration is crucial. It is not just about going digital for the sake of it. Each solution must be thoughtfully tailored, considering the human aspect and the unique needs of each hawker. Learning from these hardworking individuals has been a humbling experience," explains Johnny Tan. 

"Any digital solution we offer must be practical and genuinely beneficial rather than detrimental to their business." 

The road ahead for the hawkers

Accenture Song designed its solutions with sustainability in mind, ensuring that the hawkers would not just receive temporary assistance, but would learn to manage and expand these solutions independently. 

The team emphasised the importance of creating basic and user-friendly systems that the hawkers could maintain and drive independently.  

"We continue to check in with the hawkers regularly to ensure everything runs smoothly and provide advice as needed. Through this project, these hawkers have become more than just clients; they have become real friends," explains Johnny Tan. 

"We are helping them on multiple levels, and we are confident that our solutions are truly sustainable, enabling them to learn and grow independently." 

‘Second Servings’ will premiere in Singapore on Mediacorp’s Channel 5 on Wednesday, 13 December 2023 at 9:30pm SGT.  

Campaign Asia

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