From Kitchen Lab to Global Fame: Tiger Balm’s Journey : Remedies: The herbal cure-all fuels the success of a multibillion-dollar conglomerate.
About a century ago, two Chinese brothers converted their kitchen in Burma into an herbal laboratory, much to the annoyance of their mother.
Little did she know they were about to launch a product that would become a household name in Asia and would be well-known among patrons of health food stores throughout the United States.
Jars of Tiger Balm, the strong-smelling ointment the siblings developed, are contributing to a multimillion-dollar business conglomerate named after them: Haw Par Bros. International Ltd.
Analysts predict a substantial improvement in Haw Par’s revenue and profit in the coming years with expansion and diversification of the pharmaceutical business controlled by its subsidiary, Tiger Medicals Ltd.
“I am quite bullish about the company,” said Richard Jones, research director at Baring Securities in Kuala Lumpur. “Tiger Balm is a good brand and has a good market presence. It’s inexpensive. I use it mostly for colds. It works.”
Tiger Balm is a camphor-based ointment used like Vicks VapoRub or Ben Gay. In Singapore, a small bottle costs $1.89. In the United States, it goes for a bit more.
Jones estimates Haw Par group’s net profit at $16.67 million in 1993, nearly 30% more than in 1992. He projects net profit at $18.68 million for 1994 and $20.63 million for 1995.
In June, 1992, TML took over marketing and distribution of Tiger Balm. The move led to a 42% improvement in TML’s operating profit that year.
Leong Chi Meng, a Vickers Ballas analyst, said Haw Par is expected to see double-digit growth in earnings in the next few years, much of it from expansion of its pharmaceutical activities.
Key to the company’s history is its cure-all herbal Tiger Balm and oils. Elder brother Aw Boon Haw (“gentle tiger” in Mandarin), more aggressive than brother Aw Boon Par (“gentle leopard”), put his name on the product.
The balm is now sold in more than 70 countries, with recently entered markets including Russia, Mexico, Burma and Bahrain.
The brothers’ rags-to-riches story began in Rangoon in the late 1870s, where their herbalist father arrived from China to treat patients who often paid him with a chicken or a dozen eggs.
The book “Tiger Balm King,” written by journalist Sam King about Aw Boon Haw, says that an elderly Burmese pharmacist working in their father’s Rangoon clinic passed on to the brothers a cure-all herbal ointment.
The brothers migrated to Singapore in the 1920s and set up several institutions, including the Tiger Balm Garden housing Chinese mythological figures. This is now Haw Par Villa, a theme park.
Boon Par died in 1944. Before Boon Haw died in 1954, the balm had become one of the world’s best-selling painkiller analgesics.
TML has launched an aggressive worldwide sales campaign, with the theme “Tiger balm works, wherever it hurts.”