January 2019
A Happy New Year from Taikoo
2020 will mark Swire's 150th year of doing business in Hong Kong. In the lead up to the anniversary, we're featuring a variety of unusual 'treasures' from the group's archives that help tell the story of how Swire's evolution has been closely intertwined through the years with that of its home city.

This calendar was produced by Taikoo Sugar more than a century ago, as a promotional gift to celebrate Chinese New Year 1915. A number of Buddhist symbols feature in the tranquil scene of a well-to-do family and their servants strolling in a garden. The red banner reads "Taikoo Sugar Company", with Taikoo's famous "Yin and Yang" trademark – first introduced in 1905 – at the centre. Below are the characters for the traditional "Kung Hei Fat Choi" New Year's greeting, while the month-by-month calendars (both lunar and western-style) run down each side of the picture. The panel below lists the full range of Taikoo Sugar products – extolling the superior qualities of each and reminding customers to always look for the Taikoo brand.

Swire established Taikoo Sugar in 1881 – a diversification from its core businesses of shipping and trading, but closely connected, because raw sugar helped fill the holds of its ships returning to Hong Kong from Mainland China, the Philippines and Taiwan (the regional growers of sugar cane) and refined product provided a significant boost to its trading businesses.

Land was purchased at Quarry Bay, a remote backwater in the north-eastern quarter of Hong Kong Island, and phase one of the Taikoo Sugar Refinery went into production in March 1884. Success followed rapidly – the factory could scarcely keep pace with demand. A second phase of building was completed in 1886, a third in 1894. Japan became a major customer after Swire extended its shipping services there, but was soon far outstripped by Mainland China, which by the early 1900s was accounting for 80% of output.

Meanwhile, Quarry Bay had been transformed. After Taikoo Dockyard opened in 1907, the two businesses supported a workforce of over 6,000 and – with their dependants – a local population of perhaps five times that. Like the 'model villages' of England's industrial heartland, Taikoo Village was a purpose-built company town, complete with shops, medical and recreational facilities, a school, its own sources of water and electricity. By 1915, when this calendar was printed, the Taikoo Sugar Refinery had been in production for three decades; within another 10 years, it would be the biggest facility of its kind in the world.

By 1945, however, after more than three years of enemy occupation during World War II and sustained aerial bombing, the entire district lay in ruins. Taikoo Sugar finally went back into production in 1950, and as Hong Kong rapidly evolved from an entrepôt to a manufacturing centre in its own right, flourished again, supporting overseas markets in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific. But in the longer-term – in common with Hong Kong's heavy industries in general – could not compete with regional competitors who benefitted from cheaper production costs. In the early 1970s, the refinery was closed and the business downscaled to packaging and retail of imported sugar.

Today, Taikoo Sugar is once again the dominant foreign brand in the China market. And Quarry Bay has once again been transformed, this time by Swire Properties, into a sought-after district of offices, residential estates and shopping malls, whose rich industrial history is still remembered in street names like Tong Chong Street – Sugar Factory Road.
Swire News 2019 January Issue
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