Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series on herbal businesses that have been operating for about 100 years. All images and artwork ©2012 Eu Yan Sang
Eu Yan Sang was founded 133 years ago, in 1879, as a small shop in the tin-mining town of Gopeng, Malaysia1 (then called British Malaya), and has thrived through the years to become a multinational, vertically integrated healthcare and wellness company. Eu Yan Sang operates more than 200 retail stores in Singapore and Malaysia, as well as Hong Kong, Macau, and other cities in China, and 94 recently acquired stores in Australia.2 Its 900 traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and related products also can be purchased in “drugstores, pharmacies, medical halls, supermarkets, convenience stores, hospitals, and health clubs and spas worldwide.”2 Eu Yan Sang has experienced this growth while following a philosophy of “Caring for Mankind,” which is “Yan Sang” literally translated.
“Eu Yan Sang has come a long way from its humble beginnings 133 years ago,” said Joanna Wong, the company’s general manager of brand management and corporate communications (email, April 5, 2012). “Today it has become a household name in Asia. It is one of the largest TCM groups in South East Asia at the forefront to create safe, quality products and services that promote life-long wellness.”
In 1873, a man named Eu Kong emigrated from China to what was then British Malaya, where he soon opened a small grocery store selling daily necessities to the community’s many tin mine laborers. Kong also offered remittance and letter-carrying services so that the workers could communicate with and send money to their families in China. Due to harsh living conditions, the tin miners were commonly in poor health,1 and Kong sold Chinese herbs and medicines to care for them, which Wong said earned him the trust of the community.
“Eu Kong [was] not a physician,” said Wong. “He’s just a businessman who cares greatly for his workforce’s health and welfare.”
Kong’s only son, who inherited the business in his early teens, was also a successful businessman in the tin-mining and rubber plantation industries and expanded Eu Yan Sang’s reach with stores in Hong Kong and southern China (Guangzhou). It was Eu Tong Sen, said Wong, who incorporated more TCM remedies into the store’s operations, first by providing the local herb Combretum sondaicum (Combretaceae) leaf as a treatment for opium addiction in the early 1900s.
As a global integrative healthcare and wellness company, Eu Yan Sang has grown immensely since its inception. In addition to its approximately 300 retail stores, it also operates 24 TCM clinics in Singapore and Malaysia and 2 integrative medical centers in Hong Kong. These facilities provide herbal prescription services, acupuncture, cupping, therapeutic massage, scrapping (a rubbing of the skin to treat stagnation of the blood), bone-setting, and chiropractic care.3 Its commercial remedies range from the bestselling, multi-herb formulation Bak Foong Pills* for menstrual cramping and postnatal nourishment to Eu Yan Sang Sleep Formula Granules† for insomnia that are based on a classical TCM formula dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE). Eu Yan Sang also sells numerous Chinese herbs in bulk, as well as “health foods” such as herbal jellies and tonic wines.4
While a large part of TCM consists of herbal formulations prepared by TCM practitioners for each individual patient to treat his or her specific conditions, mass-produced herbal products (which are based on a fixed formula and delivered in a specific form), such as the many sold by Eu Yan Sang, “enjoy a very long history as part of the TCM system,” said Chun-Tao Che, PhD, the Norman R. Farnsworth Professor of Pharmacognosy in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois in Chicago (email, June 12, 2012). “In general, these TCM products are self-prescribed for treating mild and chronic conditions, or used as ‘tonics’ to correct minor ‘sub-health’ conditions.”
Eu Yan Sang operates during a time when many herbal and food products from Asia have a negative reputation abroad due to reports of adulteration and contamination, as reflected in the Washington Post’s recent article on Australian officials’ detection of endangered animals parts and toxic plants in seized samples of TCM remedies from China.5
But what sets Eu Yan Sang apart from many other TCM and herbal products companies — aside from its numerous stores and clinics spanning several countries — is that the company aims to adhere to very strict quality and safety standards.6 In 2008, the company developed the Eu Yan Sang Good Agronomic Practices for Herbs Certification Scheme, which its website describes as the world’s first safety control scheme for TCM herbs.7 According to this plan, the company must source all raw herbs used in its products from independently certified suppliers. The scheme itself is audited by Agrifood Technologies, a commercial branch of Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority that evaluates suppliers’ production systems, good agricultural practices, post-harvest handling and processing practices, and documentation, records, management, and product quality control systems. Herbs that successfully pass through the scheme feature labels on their packaging that indicate their certified status to consumers.
Additionally, Eu Yan Sang’s 2 manufacturing facilities are certified according to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), and the factory in Hong Kong is certified for its GMPs by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration.6 All herbs must first undergo chromatographic “fingerprinting” in order to identify and/or determine regional species and any past processing or possible toxic contents.8
“Herbal quality is of prime importance for the herbal industries as well as the consumers,” said Professor Che. “We all have great concerns about negative issues such as adulteration and contamination. It is therefore crucial to obtain good-quality materials from reliable suppliers. While it is often difficult and impractical to deal directly with plant growers or upstream dealers inside China, a reliable channel such as Eu Yan Sang will play a crucial gatekeeping role to help ensure the quality of the materials we obtain. I consider Eu Yan Sang a reputable and reliable supplier of TCM herbs and a key commercial partner in TCM.”
Eu Yan Sang also conducts and supports significant research on TCM herbs. In the 1990s, the company created a research and development department, and has since collaborated with several hospitals and universities to study its products. It also worked with TCM experts in China and Hong Kong to create a new TCM treatment for colds and flu, and with the School of Chinese Medicine of Hong Kong Baptist University it published An Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica in Hong Kong with the aim of establishing what the company calls an industry platform for the standardization and modernization of the TCM sector.9
Eu Yan Sang has been presented with so many awards that the company organizes them on its website according to year.10 Some of the prizes include the 2010 and 2011 Most Favourable Premium Hundred-Year TCM Brand Award from the Hong Kong Traditional Chinese Medicine Association, the 2009-2010 Manning’s Retail Limited Professional TCM Product Award for Bo Ying Compound, the Trusted Retailers in the TCM category (voted by readers) from Guang Zhou Daily News, and the 2007 China Leading Quality Enterprise Association Award for a Top 10 Brand in the Medicine Category.
Despite the company’s success, the board and staff of Eu Yan Sang — which is currently run by Robert, Richard, and Clifford Eu, great grandsons of founder Eu Kong — realize the importance of staying relevant year after year, decade after decade.
“Though Eu Yan Sang has withstood the tide of time with over a century of heritage,” said Wong, “the Group recognizes that staying current to consumers today is essential to its growth. It adopts a scientific approach to validate and harness nature, and at the same time, adheres to the value of humanity while embracing progress and change.”
- History. Eu Yan Sang website. Available at: www.euyansang.com/index.php/eu-yan-sang/history. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- The leader in TCM. Eu Yan Sang website. Available at: www.euyansang.com/index.php/eu-yan-sang/profile. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Clinics: integrative healthcare. Eu Yan Sang website. Available at: www.euyansang.com/index.php/clinics. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Products. Eu Yan Sang website. Available at: www.euyansang.com/index.php/product. Accessed June 20, 2012.
- Kupferschmidt K. Samples of traditional Chinese medicine are found to contain harmful ingredients. Washington Post. April 23, 2012. Available at: www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/samples-of-traditional-chinese-medicine-are-found-to-contain-harmful-ingredients/2012/04/23/gIQAY2frcT_story.html. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Manufacturing. Eu Yan Sang website. Available at: www.euyansang.com/index.php/eu-yan-sang/manufacturing. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Good Agronomic Practices for Herbs (EYSGAP-Herbs) Certification Scheme. Eu Yan Sang website. Available at: www.euyansang.com/index.php/eu-yan-sang/initiatives/good-agronomic-practices-for-herbs. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Fingerprinting technology. Eu Yan Sang website. Available at: www.euyansang.com/index.php/eu-yan-sang/initiatives/fingerprinting-technology. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Collaborations. Eu Yan Sang website. Available at: www.euyansang.com/index.php/eu-yan-sang/initiatives/collaborations. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Awards. Eu Yan Sang website. Available at: www.euyansang.com/index.php/eu-yan-sang/awards. Accessed June 20, 2012.