More gourmet grocers in Singapore selling premium produce, artisanal food

They join the more than 20 niche grocers that have set up shop here in the last four years, selling everything from Korean produce to meat and seafood from Europe and Japan.

Major supermarket chains here, such as FairPrice and Cold Storage, have stepped up their game too, stocking their shelves with organic produce and international goods to satisfy posh palates.

Last year, upscale supermarket chain Jasons launched Jasons The Gourmet Grocer at Orchard Towers in Orchard Road. The store features a gourmet cheese room and wine cellar, among other things.

Many niche grocers stay competitive by working directly with suppliers and farmers so as to cut out the middle man.

For instance, Little Farms’ chief executive Fred Moujalli, 41, maintains close ties with suppliers in his home country of Australia. He used to be the produce-buying manager for gourmet grocery chain Thomas Dux Grocer in Victoria and New South Wales, and was the head of buying and procurement for Australian home delivery service My Food Bag.

About 80 per cent of the products at Little Farms is exclusive to the store, where Singaporeans make up about 25 per cent of the customers.

On the market here, he says: “The biggest challenges are in educating consumers and catering to different taste buds. We want Little Farms to feel like you are at a farmer’s market, where produce is handpicked for you.”

Mr Moujalli and his staff take time to explain to customers details such as where a product is from and how it is best consumed.

He also tracks food trends closely, such as the craze for granola, yogurt- based protein drinks for gym rats and coconut oil – all of which fly off the shelves.

Ms Stephanie Duriez, 44, owner of Secrets Fine Food, also notes the demand for artisanal products from lesser-known producers.

She stocks restaurant-quality ingredients such as Bordier butter that are used in high-end restaurants here.

The Frenchwoman, who has been running Secrets Fine Food as an online boutique in Dubai since 2013, says: “Unique products made in small batches are not so common in the market yet. At my store, people have the opportunity to discover new products.”

For Big Box deputy chief executive officer Julia Tong, 55, keeping prices low is key. The warehouse retailer tied up with Japanese supermarket chains Gyomu & Megumi no Sato last year to bring in Japanese brands that are not commonly found here.

Examples include Kobe Chef mayonnaise and Gyomu’s house-brand of frozen fried rice.

Ms Tong says: “People like Japanese products, but find them expensive. I wanted to keep prices affordable.”

Many items such as sauces and condiments come in bigger sizes for better value, such as one-litre sesame dressing.

But with more niche grocers entering the market, Mr Masahiro Shimazaki, 49, general manager of Midtown Mart, is mindful of the challenges.

“A significant number of customers shop online these days and there are no easy solutions to manpower issues,” he says. “The outlook for niche grocers remains murky for now.”

Business is still brisk for older players, though.

At online shop The French Grocer, profits have risen about 10 per cent year on year since it opened in 2012.

Mr Guillaume Gallet, 61, its general manager, says: “Consumers have become more adventurous and are trying out food and beverages from foreign brands.”

But he, too, sounds a cautious note. “With so many competitors, the pie is getting smaller, so differentiation of products is of utmost importance.”

Gourmands looking to jazz up their pantry with more premium ingredients welcome the greater variety of brands.

Finance executive James Tan, 33, has a taste for posh nosh.

“I don’t mind indulging in speciality French groceries from Secrets Fine Food, especially when the staff can explain to me where the produce comes from and let me sample items too,” he says.

“The products also make good housewarming presents for my foodie friends.”

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