Thousands of netizens mourned the sudden death of Colis Lam Wai-chun, founding chairman of 759 Store who died at the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital at the age of 59.

The Hong Kong youngsters took to the Internet to express their sadness at the passing of the founder of the 759 empire. They thanked him for bringing in cheap Japanese and Korean snacks that are either not available or heavily marked-up in supermarkets.

An industrialist specialized in making coils for home appliances, Lam made a bold move into the retailing of snack food eight years ago. He quickly amassed over 250 stores all over Hong Kong, their shop windows stuffed with piles of instant noodles and potato snacks.

His bold attempt to challenge the oligopoly enjoyed by supermarket giants Wellcome and ParknShop quickly earned praise from the public.

However the snack store chain that operated under listed company CEC International Holdings had made losses for the last three consecutive years because of escalating shop rental costs and increasing competition from imitators.

One netizen wrote, “Lam was the first one to beat the supermarket giants – RIP”. Another said Lam would be greatly missed because he made people aware how much these supermarkets made by introducing parallel trading in snack foods and making a great contribution to the local snack industry.

Dubbed Hong Kong’s “King of Snacks”, Lam had a good business sense. Like other famous Hong Kong industrialists, Lam did not have much education but he knew how to make money.

He began his working life in a Japanese electronics company before starting a 100 square foot factory in North Point when he was 20. In the 90s, he set up a coil factory in Zhongshan, China, and managed to list his company under stock code 759 in 1999.

After spending more than 30 years in industry, he felt the golden period of manufacturing had ended. Upon the advice of younger staff, he ventured into the snack food business despite never having had any previous retail experience.

Straight away his idea proved to be a big hit, thanks to Lam being open-minded about forming new partnerships. Along the way he gained many business friends. Reporters liked dealing with him because he was such a friendly character who seldom turned down interview requests.

In the wake of his sudden death, the CEC board appointed executive director Tang Fung-kwan as his successor. Board members say they will do their best to adhere to the business strategies laid down by their late chairman.