Food supplier that's a cut above the competition

Food supplier that's a cut above the competition

For many meat eaters, beef is just beef, whether rare or well done; where the steer was reared or what it ate are of no importance.

Not so for food supplier Culina, which takes pride in being able to distinguish finer points such as these.

The firm's upmarket products range from grass-fed beef, which has a lower fat content and so is more appealing to health-conscious eaters, to grain-fed steak with more fat in the form of marbling, a preference for some diners.

Steak gourmands can try full-blood Wagyu cattle, usually from Japan, or meat from the first-generation hybrid of Wagyu cattle bred with Angus cows. Each cut has its own distinct taste.

Culina, which was founded in 1994, imports high-quality brands of fine foods, wine and water from around the world to supply more than 1,000 restaurants, cafes, hotels and airlines in Singapore.

It has been supplying all six of the celebrity chef restaurants at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) since the integrated resort's eateries started in 2010.

For instance, celebrity chef restaurant CUT by Wolfgang Puck receives 300-day, grain-fed black Angus beef from Culina - meat from stock that ate only grain for the last 300 days of their lives.

"One important thing in the business is consistency," said Culina general manager Leelyne Yeo. "The chefs are particular with what they buy. Once they have put the product onto the menu, they can't go out of stock. The service level must be high."

For example, the service to CUT by Wolfgang Puck goes far beyond just importing and distributing.

The Angus beef - which comes from Australia - is "dry-aged" for 45 days in a special facility on Culina's Senoko Crescent premises, a process that locks in the flavours for better concentration.

Culina also supplies "wet-aged beef", which is aged using a different process. It cuts the meat to the specifications of CUT by Wolfgang Puck.

The firm has a gourmet boutique and a bistro at Dempsey Hill which opened in 2006 and sells a selection of Culina's imports, including fresh produce, gourmet products, meat and wines.

Ms Yeo highlighted some ways Culina stays ahead of its rivals in the competitive food importing and distributing business.

One main strength is that the firm is a one-stop supplier, providing foods from meat to foie gras, oysters and cheese, as well as fine dining brands of water and wine.

This is attractive to restaurants that want to deal with only one supplier, said Ms Yeo.

The firm also relies on the consistency of its food delivery and the quality of its products, as well as constant communication with restaurants and chefs.

A challenge noted by Ms Yeo is in handling the periodic supply disruptions from overseas.

Strikes in Europe, for example, have crippled airports and seaports over the years, while natural disasters have impacted supply.

Ms Yeo cited the floods in Queensland in early 2011 that disrupted beef supplies.

In such situations, Culina needs to quickly arrange alternative transport arrangements. If necessary, alternative food sources could also be tapped.

"Through these, communication with chefs is very important," said Ms Yeo, who stressed that they must be kept informed every step of the way.

Culina, which employs 242 people, was founded by a Frenchman, but after a series of ownership changes, it is now held by luxury retailer Club 21, which is in turn headed by Mrs Christina Ong.

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