Sunday 29 November 2015

New NTUC Foodfare scheme for hawker stalls

Social enterprise can help people keen on running outlets under its Rice Garden brand
By Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2015

Aspiring and current hawkers can now get a leg-up to open their own economy rice stall, while helping to keep prices affordable.

Foodcourt operator and cooperative NTUC Foodfare yesterday launched a new scheme for food-stall operators to convert their stalls to outlets under Foodfare's Rice Garden brand, or for newcomers to start new Rice Garden stalls.

Rice Garden stalls in hawker centres and coffee shops here sell mixed rice dishes at lower prices compared with stalls elsewhere.

A meal of one meat and two vegetable servings is capped at $2.50 for senior citizens and $1.50 for Comcare cardholders. The general public pays $2.70 or $3, depending on the location of the stall.

In return, stallholders get a monthly grant of $4,000 to defray the cost of keeping food prices low as well as an one-off amount of up to $20,000 to buy the equipment they need for setting up the stall.

The stallholder will be linked up with NTUC Foodfare's central kitchen for food supplies, and get training and business operation advice.

The scheme, called the Rice Garden's Business Community Partnership Programme, already has two participants - food operator Kimly Group and a former employee of Foodfare, Madam Diep Phuong Mai.

NTUC Foodfare hopes to open 10 other such stalls next year and will assess applicants based on commitment level and stall location.

Hawkers who are part of the scheme must be able to operate the stalls at least five days a week and serve two meals a day. They must also serve food using healthier oils.

There are 20 Rice Garden stalls in hawker centres and coffee shops here, mostly in lower-income estates. They are run directly by NTUC Foodfare, a social enterprise.

NTUC Foodfare's general manager for food services, Mr Richard Lee, described the new programme as a "win-win". He said converting established mixed rice outlets into Rice Garden outlets will help the social enterprise secure better locations in areas where more affordable food is needed.

"It can also help would-be hawkers or struggling hawkers survive," he said. "Their current business model may not be working. We will provide them with training, supply them food from our central kitchen that we buy and prepare in bulk at lower prices. We also control the quality of food we supply," he said.

Mr Vincent Chia, 41, general manager of Kimly Group, which runs a chain of over 30 mixed rice stalls in coffee shops around the island, converted his stall in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 into a Rice Garden outlet last Saturday. His other stalls charge $3 for a rice meal of one meat and two vegetable servings. "We wanted to do some social outreach, but it would take a lot of effort to start our own programme," said Mr Chia. "So we decided to partner Foodfare."

There was some adjustment at first when staff had to change the way they order food supplies, he said, but "now we are thinking that we should probably have our own central kitchen. We learn from them too".

After lowering prices, the stall in Ang Mo Kio now serves 1,500 customers a day, up from 1,200. "Even with the lower prices, we believe we can still turn a profit," he said.

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