Wing On New Group Canada Inc.

From North America to China, reversing the global distribution chain
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Forrest Lancaster

In 1996 Minguang Lu, Chinese immigrant, entrepreneur and founder and president of Wing On New Group Canada Inc. (WING ON), initiated extraordinary global trading success by working backward. The vision for WING ON began in the early 1980s in China, when Lu took an opportunity to send food to Canada. What started as exporting evolved into one of the first domestic Chinese supermarkets in the greater Toronto metro area.

“For many years, Lu’s sole focus was exporting from China and importing the retail items to Canada and the U.S.,” explains B.J. Moroney, general manager of WING ON. “Since that time, he’s transformed the process by doing reverse logistics and recognizing the opportunity that exists in selling to the Chinese market, mainly middle-class families. He’s successfully changed the business to the point where we’re now buying North American branded goods and selling back to the Chinese public at large.”

Room for reverse logistics

Since its inception in 1996, WING ON has emerged as a leading global food and consumer products trading company. WING ON’s team has built a network of long standing strategic partnerships with international corporations to research and develop food and consumer products worldwide, such as J.D. Irving, Perrigo Nutritional and Costco Wholesale. Today, the Ontario-based organization not only sells world-class products, but also OEM with the national suppliers above to its self-owned brand, including Polar Bear Diapers and Polar Bear Formula Milk to Chinese children.

“As early as 2005, WING ON began developing a better strategy for e-commerce, set up like an online Chinese supermarket,” says Alexander Mars, sales buyer director for WING ON. The company is now sending everything from baby products to health and beauty, cleaning supplies and Canadian specialties, such as ice wine, maple syrup and honey, as well as a variety of nuts through a significant online e-commerce presence.

“WING ON is unique in the sense that we buy North American branded goods, as well as our own self-owned, and turn around and sell them back to China on a daily and weekly basis,” explains Mars. “We’re the only company I know of in Canada doing this. Lu has developed relationships with some of the biggest retail players in China, including Vanguard in 165 major Chinese cities.”

Forming global relationships

What WING ON did, unlike nearly anyone else, is create a global chain distribution system, based on the Internet and cloud-computing infrastructure with the help of Oracle. WING ON’s vision is to design, develop and purchase the best consumer products globally, as well as build a logistic network that allows for efficiency in manufacturing, exporting and branding for the value-added food and consumer products.

WING ON now has two warehouses from Mississauga to Markham, Ontario and is one of the largest of its kind in greater Toronto. The company has also set up a vast warehousing network throughout China, from Shanghai to Nanjing and well beyond.

“Our relationship with Vanguard has allowed us to open a store within a store in China,” explains Mars. “Over the Chinese New Year, Lu traveled to open five and we’ll be opening another 50 soon. Our five-year plan is to have hundreds of these retail locations set up.”

A variety of premium products with a story

Lu emphasizes that the Chinese consumer is not only interested in the high quality of a product, but also the story behind it. “We’re not just selling goods,” he explains. “We’re also introducing pieces of Canadian history into the Chinese market.”

One of the most popular items WING ON distributes is Niagara’s famous ice wine. The product has become so popular among Chinese consumers that WING ON has developed its own proprietary label, Polar Bear Ice Wine with authorization from Pillitteri Estates Winery. “Before, 80 percent of the Chinese were buying from European nations, such as France and Italy,” compares Lu. “Once we started selling ice wine the Chinese realized it matched, and even exceeded, the quality and price of the European brands.”

Another best-seller for WING ON is the company’s line of nuts, from almonds to cashews, hazelnuts to pistachios and mixed varieties. “The Canadian flag on the packaging really helps sell the product,” says Moroney. “We also have dried cranberries, a honey line and baby wipes from a U.S. company based in Long Island. There’s a lot of moving and shaking going on and we try to introduce new products every month, aligning with the best possible allies in acquiring the product.”

Starting as a one-man-band, WING ON now has a team of people who help do the product research, but Lu regularly attends industry trade shows himself. “He is the bridge between the biggest market and huge supplies,” says Mars.

“For Lu’s contribution to the society and export of Canada, he was awarded the 60th Queen Elisabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal by Governor General of Canada in 2012,” adds Moroney.

After just 10 short years, business is booming for WING ON and the company has many exciting opportunities at hand. “We’re working with Costco, distribution and sales its brand Kirkland Signature Products in China,” notes Moroney. “We’re also working on opening up two new wholesale centers, Americo Wholesales, in the duty-free trade zone areas in Shanghai and Tianjin.”

Sometimes the well-traveled path isn’t always the right path, as Lu learned early on in 1996. With a little outside of the-box strategy and a vision, Wing On New Group Canada Inc. has launched into the international trade spotlight and for right now, the sky is the limit.