Saturday 2 June 2012

Budget $1.99 meal to beat inflation

NTUC Foodfare to open 120 hawker stalls dishing up cheap but good fare
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2012

ONE dollar and ninety-nine cents does not buy a lot these days.

Now, however, one social enterprise is offering this knock-down price for a set meal of rice, an egg, vegetables, and meat or fish.

This budget meal - which is at least 50 cents cheaper than the equivalent offered at most hawker stalls - is an attempt to help low-income Singaporeans weather tough economic times.

It is being offered by NTUC Foodfare, which plans to open 120 stalls in hawker centres by 2015 that will serve up cheap but good-quality fare.

The $1.99 rate is for customers who are part of the Public Assistance Scheme, students, senior citizens, full-time national servicemen with concessionary cards and NTUC union members. Other diners pay $2.50.

'We were concerned about the impact of rising food prices on consumers, especially on the elderly and low-income groups,' said NTUC Foodfare chief executive Perry Ong.

He added that the group's goal was to help Singaporeans stretch their dollar. The group already runs a low-price stall at Block 117 Aljunied Market and Food Centre, as well as a newly opened halal stall in a coffee shop at Block 19, Toa Payoh Lorong 7.

At a tasting session held yesterday for reporters at the Aljunied stall, the portions were adequate, and the food, no-frills but tasty.

The set meal includes rice, an egg and a side of vegetables. In addition, diners can choose between a fish fillet, a pork cutlet and a chicken wing that is fried, braised or served with curry sauce.

Those who want greater variety can choose from 20 dishes. They pay about $2 for rice with one meat and one vegetable dish.

The Toa Payoh halal stall will sell nasi lemak with fish and meat options, and a la carte dishes.

An NTUC Foodfare spokesman said it can sell the meals at lower prices because it buys the ingredients in bulk and it is a not-for-profit organisation.

The group also operates a catering service, and runs 45 food courts, coffee shops, food kiosks and cafes across the country.

The spokesman added that the set meals use mostly the same ingredients, which helps generate economies of scale.

Even so, it took the group almost two years to come up with a winning menu. The Aljunied stall was set up in 2009 to help Singaporeans during the height of the financial crisis.

The spokesman said chefs experimented with almost all of the ingredients - from the curry paste to the flour used for the batter - before they hit the sweet spot between cost and taste.

The project is not subsidised by the Government. NTUC Foodfare pays market rent for its stalls and market salaries to the employees.

The Aljunied stall broke even last year after word spread about the low-cost meals.

It now sells about 7,000 of them a month, with half at the $1.99 rate.

The spokesman said the low price limits the range of set meals and dishes that can be served. 'We tried offering mackerel, for example, but it was too expensive and not sustainable,' she said.

Other seafood such as prawns - used in local hawker fare such as prawn mee and laksa - would have been too costly as well. However, the spokesman said that NTUC Foodfare would review its menu at a later time.

Not all Singaporeans are fans of the project. Some hawkers told The Straits Times that the low-price stalls would hurt their business.

Mr Sam Yik Chung, 24, who works in an economy rice stall at a Toa Payoh coffee shop, said individual hawkers could not secure the bulk-buy discounts that NTUC Foodfare enjoys.

His stall charges $2.90 for rice with two vegetables and one meat. 'We'll have to lower our prices or lose customers,' he said. 'Either way, the stalls will be a big problem for us.'

No comments:

Post a Comment