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Nin Jiom Medicine Manufactory
Ask almost any Chinese person what is the best cure for a cough and they will most likely tell you "Pei Pa Koa Cough Syrup."

Chan Yin, director and general manager of Nin Jiom Medicine Manufactory, which produces the cough syrup, said the reason it is so well known is because it has a pedigree dating back to the Ching Dynasty.

"The formula was developed from a prescription written by Dr Ip Tin-see, a famous physician of the Royal family," he said.

History has it that a provincial commander called Yang Xiaolian asked Dr Ip to treat his mother, who had been dogged by a persistent cough for months. The physician prescribed a blend of natural herbs and honey, which eventually cured Mr Yang's mother. She was so impressed with the results that she asked her son to mass-produce the cough medicine so that others suffering from similar ailments could also be cured.

His family set up a factory in Beijing to manufacture the cough syrup and named the formula "Nin Jiom (in memory of my mother) Pei Pa Koa (loquat syrup)." The words "King-to," which translates as "capital," referring to Beijing, were later added to the company name which became Kingto Nin Jiom.

During the Sino-Japanese War, the Yang family managed to flee to Hong Kong, and later decided to emigrate to Brazil. Fearing that the formula might be lost, and in need of money to emigrate, the Yang family sold their business to a respected local Chinese medicine practitioner Tse Siu-bong, who still heads the company as its chairman and managing director to this day.

Mr Tse produced the cough syrup at his Chinese medicine shop, before finally opening the company Nin Jiom Medicine Manufacturing (HK) Ltd, which was incorporated in 1962.

Today, the company has built up a global sales network spanning 20 countries, and produced sales of almost HK$350 million last year.

Headquartered in Hong Kong, Nin Jiom has also set up manufacturing plants in Taiwan and Singapore. The company's product has a solid market base in Taiwan, and in Singapore which also serves as a research and production centre for Chinese herbal medicines.

Besides its flagship product, Pei Pao Kao, Nin Jiom has also developed other niche products, which include nutrient-rich tonics and Pei Pa Koa Herbal Candy, which it has promoted extensively through media promotions.

Mr Chan said the company's sales had been steady since its inception, because "people always get a cough or sore throat regardless of whether the economy is doing well or not, so we are quite lucky in that regards."

An aggressive advertising campaign in the mid-90s and more recently last year, resulted in an increase in sales from HK$170 million in 1994 to HK$290 million in 1997.

Fresh, and often amusing advertising campaigns helped the company build its brand in the minds of the public and also enhance its image as a "trendy" product that also appeals to the younger generation.

Mr Chan said the company's products are well known among the middle-aged to older generations, but he knew it needed to find some way to tap into the youth market.

It developed some products which might appeal to younger customers, such as Herbal Cough Candy, but knew that it also had to present itself as an old, trusted product with a young image.

That goal resulted in a series of witty advertising campaigns. One of the most talked about advertisements that the company did was that of a son sitting in a teashop with his father who had a caged bird with him, Mr Chan said.

"The son sneezed and blew all the feathers off the bird which stuck to the father's face, who, looking like he was in shock, handed his son a box of Nin Jiom Cold Remedy," Mr Chan laughed. "We received very good feedback from all age demographics when we did our market research about the effectiveness of our advertisements."

While its marketing focus may have shifted during its history, Nin Jiom's formula has remained unchanged. A key ingredient in its products is fritillaria, which the company imports HK$17 million worth of into Hong Kong annually. Other herbs used in its formula are grown mainly in western China, processed in Guangxi Province and then imported into Hong Kong.

Nin Jiom is exported around the globe, including to China. Having been developed in China, it would seem to be a natural evolution to manufacture Nin Jiom in China. Mr Chan said the company is planning to establish a production plant in southern China, probably in Guangdong or Guangxi, to expand its sales in the country. But given the complicated examination and approval procedures in China, Mr Chan said it is difficult to predict when that will be.
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