Gourmet meat market in Singapore grows

Gourmet meat market in Singapore grows

Angus, wagyu, Kobe, shirobuta, kurobuta, iberico. In 1994, people might well have thought them to be exotic holiday destinations.

Such was the knowledge of the average shopper when specialist meat provider Swiss Butchery first came on the scene.

At the time, they were one of the first gourmet butcheries to open, as no other specialty shops were providing different cuts and grades of meat and sausages, says current managing director Mark Foo.

"When we first started out, there was not much knowledge about quality meats and sausages, so it took a little bit of education before (the industry) got going," recalls Mr Foo, 37.

Nowadays however, "Angus" and "wagyu" appear on almost every cafe menu, while "kurobuta" is an increasingly common hotpot ingredient.

"Over the years, the market for gourmet meats grew as people travelled more, ate more, and wanted that same experience when they came back," adds Mr Foo.

That's why Swiss Butchery has now expanded to have two outlets and three supermarket counters, and Mr Foo estimates that each store gets about 150 customers per day who each spend an average of S$100.

It was also in 1994 that gourmet food and wine distributor Culina was set up, and they now have 11 butchery concessionaires at Fairprice Finest outlets in Singapore, in addition to their flagship boutique and bistro in Dempsey.

The reason behind Culina's growth is that "consumers are generally eating better and well", observes Leelyne Yeo, general manager of Culina.

"With affluence and better knowledge, consumers trade up more readily for a quality piece of meat... We hope that the increased availability of our products at outlets across the island inspires our customers to experiment with new tastes and innovative styles of cooking," she says.

Over the years, there has been a proliferation of players on the scene, the latest being three new gourmet grocers popping up in just the last few months alone - Ethan's Gourmet Foods which at the moment focuses on Japanese produce, a butchery at Tanjong Katong called Meat Collective, and an online organic barbecue delivery service known as Stoke.

For these new kids on the block, their main goal for now is to make a name for themselves by selling high-quality produce at reasonable prices, to target the middle to high-end consumer.

Explains Ruth See of Stoke: "If you were to buy a ribeye steak from a supermarket and get my organic grass-fed ribeye from Australia, do exactly the same thing and cook it exactly the same way for the same duration - I can tell you mine will taste better just because the beef is more tender and natural."

Like Ms See, Sasha Conlan of The Barbie Girls - an online gourmet meat and seafood grocer - also believes that it is the quality of their produce that has earned their popularity among consumers.

"In my experience, consumers are becoming more educated about the produce that is out there and also the quality of that produce. I don't so much feel that the interest is in "gourmet" produce, the interest is more in good quality food that has been ethically produced and is fully traceable," she says.

Ms Conlan's business started out in October 2011 selling only lamb; they saw an average of about 10 customers per week. Now, they sell a much wider range of produce including beef, poultry, pork and seafood, to about 100 customers per week.

Adds Swiss Butchery's Mr Foo: "Our country's solid food culture is one of the push factors. People's expectations are steadily increasing and they are slowly assimilating with the mantra 'health is wealth', which advocates a better quality of life, and quality food is the basis of that," he says.

Asked about the future of the gourmet meat industry, there's a consensus among the grocers that there is still a lot more variety of high quality produce that can potentially be brought into Singapore.

Says Mr Foo: "With the rise of new age farmers and so many different techniques of raising livestock, we can expect an even wider range of produce in the future. That being said, different meats appeal to different tastebuds so I think we still have room for growth."

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