Eat well with these online retailers

Chitose Agriculture Initiative

For a weekly fee of S$162.50, customers can get a box of produce from Chitose Agriculture Initiative. Photo: Chitose Agriculture Initiative

Love the crunchy and clean-tasting apples from Aomori, or the sweet and creamy pumpkin from Hokkaido? There is now an easier way to get fruit and vegetables from Japan, without the need to take a flight, or even make that trip down to the Isetan or Meidi-Ya supermarkets.

Pumpkin gnocchi and breaded pumpkin from Noraya Farm, Hokkaido. Photo: Nude Seafood

For a weekly fee of S$162.50, customers can get a box of produce from Chitose Agriculture Initiative (CAI). Each box contains seven to nine varieties of fruits and vegetables, sufficient for a family of four for about five to six meals.

CAI works with over 50 artisan farms across Japan and Malaysia's Cameron Highlands to source for fresh produce. The selection of produce that goes into the box is done omakase style, a Japanese dining terms that translates to "leave it to the chef". In other words, only seasonal produce goes into the box and it can vary each week.

Besides apples from Aomori, and white bochan pumpkin from Hokkaido, other produce that have been shipped to customers include baby kale from Ibaraki and persimmon from Nara.

All the produce shipped to CAI's customers meet the high quality controls set by the Japanese Agricultural Standards, which are requirements for the agriculture industry maintained by the Japanese government.

CAI's founder Tomohiro Fujita decided to start the company after noticing that while South-east Asia has enjoyed continued economic prosperity and growth for the last 20 years, "the education on the importance of quality food did not enjoy the same growth rate. The quality of life across aspects such as transportation and housing has improved significantly but we cannot say the improvement on food produce has been the same".

The CAI merchandising team short-listed farmers who are strong advocates in sustainable agriculture.

CAI delivers all the hand-picked agricultural goodness directly to homes in Singapore within 48 hours of harvest and "remains steadfast in its on-going efforts to uphold its mission to support ethical and sustainable agriculture to feed future generations", says Mr Fujita.

The company also has its own farm in Cameron Highlands, where it uses state-of-the-art Japanese technology to produce fresh strawberries for some of the top restaurants and patisseries in Singapore, such as Saint Pierre and Suju Japanese Restaurant.

Deliveries are done only on Fridays, and while it may be quicker to pop down to the supermarkets to get some Japanese produce, Mr Fujita maintains that CAI produce is tastier.

While the produce at supermarkets is of high quality, the produce often have a longer shelf life, and this often means that the produce is harvested before it is fully ripe, which supposedly compromises on the taste.

"At CAI, the farmers who we work with are all artisan farmers who cultivate premium-quality produce using sustainable agriculture cultivation methods. We like to call this the kanjuku (fully riped) style," adds Mr Fujita.

The Meat Club

Eye fillet from The Meat Club. Photo: The Meat Club

Meat-lovers take note, you definitely want to be a member of The Meat Club. The recently launched online store offers fresh, restaurant-quality Australian beef and lamb, delivered to your doorstep.

The Meat Club was founded by a group of Australians who are passionate about eating well and bringing the very best produce to Singapore. The Club is headed by CEO David Beattie, who grew up living and working on a sheep farm in Western Queensland.

Drawing on his first-hand knowledge as a farmer, Mr Beattie also brings years of supply chain and logistics management experience to The Meat Club, having worked for 10 years as a project manager with multinational engineering consultancy Jacobs and global miner Rio Tinto.

The Meat Club's spokeswoman, Amy Bell, says that the business was started after Mr Beattie was frustrated by the lack of good-quality beef and lamb in Singapore. "We believe that restaurant-quality red meat should be available to everyone and that it should not be a luxury to be enjoyed by just a few," notes Ms Bell.

For now, The Meat Club only supplies meat to residents in Singapore, but there are plans to expand the service to other parts of South-east Asia. The club currently has about 200 members.

The Meat Club offers six prepacked sets of meats to choose from, such as the Lone Pack, which has 1kg lean mince, 1kg porterhouse, 1kg rib eye and 1kg lamb chop to cater to the single, protein-loving executive. There are also just beef and lamb packs and even one for barbecues, that has 1kg porterhouse, 1kg rib eye, 1.4kg butterflied lamb and 1kg lamb chop. There is also the option for you to build your own pack, selecting the cuts and quantity of meats.

The club also works with local expat chef Terri-Anne Leske, from Carrotsticks and Cravings, on recipes like Nut-free Dukkah Lamb. Photo: Carrotsticks and Cravings

Regardless of the pack type, The Meat Club offers members two options: either single purchase or the Autopilot monthly delivery service. Prices vary according to the purchase type. For example, a single purchase of the Lone Pack costs S$192.50, but on the Autopilot option the price goes down to S$173.20 per month.

"The AutoPilot is more popular, because of its flexibility and ongoing savings, about 10 per cent less compared to a single purchase," says Ms Bell. The monthly subscription service is not a locked-in contract and customers can modify, delay or cancel their order at any time. "It just takes away the hassle of having to order meat online time and time again. In other words, we do all the hard yards for you," explains Ms Bell.

She adds that the option to build your pack is The Meat Club's most popular feature, as everyone has different needs. "The meat delivered on AutoPilot has up to 28 days shelf life in your fridge, and up to 14 days for mince meat, meaning it doesn't need to be frozen unless it is not consumed within that time," she points out. Single purchases can be delivered the next day.

The beef comes from Inverell, New South Wales while the lamb is from Warrnambool, Victoria. "We source our products from a number of local partner farms," says Ms Bell. All the meat is graded by Meats Standard Australia, developed by the Australian red meat industry to improve the eating quality consistency of beef and sheepmeat. The system is based on almost 700,000 consumer taste tests by over 100,000 consumers from nine countries and takes into account all factors that affect eating quality from the paddock to the plate.

The meat is vacuumed-packed in meal-sized portions and is home-delivered chilled in a styrofoam box.

To give home chefs cooking inspiration, The Meat Club also worked with local expat chef Terri-Anne Leske, from Carrotsticks and Cravings on recipes.

While some may still prefer to head to the butchers or supermarkets to buy their meats, Ms Bell adds: "Our product is fresh, and never frozen. It is cut and packed on the processors' floor, meaning no one else touches your meat. It is then air-freighted into Singapore and delivered to our members. You can't get meat any fresher. It is as if you are living on the farm."

Lucia Cakes
93A Club Street

Ombre Berry Cheesecake. Photo: Lucia Cakes

While most of her peers are asleep at 1am, Agatha Xavier is huddled in her kitchen in a shophouse baking.

Ms Xavier, 35, runs Lucia Cakes, a mostly online cake shop, with a small shop front.

What you get here are not mass-produced cakes, but each lovingly made by Ms Xavier, who used to be from the banking sector.

"Having worked in banking, the intention with the online platform is to bring about convenience and quality for the busy executive, who requires a fuss-free solution for something they will need time and time again, be it to get their husbands or wives an elegant birthday or anniversary cake, or ordering brownies for their children's birthday party dessert tables or for their team at work, or simply bringing a box of brownies to a colleague's BBQ or dinner party," she says.

Cakes have to be ordered a day in advance, subject to availability. Ms Xavier sometimes gets early-morning calls from customers wanting to place orders.

Brownies from Lucia Cakes. Photo: Lucia Cakes

The menu here is kept small - there are four cakes to choose from, and two types of brownies. Cakes such as the chocolate fudge and avocado lime cheesecake cost from S$45 while brownies are priced at S$35.

On her choice of offerings, Ms Xavier says that brownies are a no-brainer, "as they are universally loved".

The cakes were decided on after trying several out with her family and friends over a couple of years.

"I wanted to have a couple of the classics - chocolate fudge cake and carrot cake. I also wanted a couple that were a little more interesting. Hence the avocado lime cheesecake and the ombre berry cheesecake," she explains.

Ms Xavier works alone, although she plans to hire help soon. "The kitchen and operation are small, and it is intentionally small as I wanted something I could run predominantly on my own, almost emulating baking in my home kitchen," she reveals.

The cakes can be delivered for a fee, or collected from the Club Street shop.

Since she was a child, Ms Xavier had already been learning to bake. First from her mother, and also from her grandmother and aunts. "I still have the notebook I used to write down all the recipes I learnt from them," she shares.

Ms Xavier later did a basic patisserie course for three months at Le Cordon Bleu London.

She says that baking has always been a passion, which was why she decided to quit banking and open Lucia's Cakes, named after her maternal grandmother, Lucy.

Her decade-long experience in banking helped shaped her business model. "I wanted something that is fuss-free and provides convenience and quality to the end-user, with products that speak of understated elegance," says Ms Xavier.

She adds that her banking background also helps in terms of her ability to do financial planning, setting up spreadsheets for business projections, risk assessments and stress-testing the business model.

"It has also provided the business with a network of contacts who all buy cakes from me now, and the store being located in the CBD makes it quite convenient for them to drop by and pick up cakes."

This article was first published on October 28, 2016.
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