Gourmet grocers

A string of new gourmet grocers has popped up to whet the appetite of increasingly discerning consumers.

In the past five months, at least four speciality stores have opened, offering premium produce and artisanal food from around the world.

Get French jams and dairy goodies from Secrets Fine Food in Tiong Bahru; Australian fruits and dips from Little Farms at Valley Point Shopping Centre; and Japanese soups, snacks and sauces from Midtown Mart in Marina Square; and the Gyomu & Megumi no Sato section at Big Box's Hypermart in Jurong East.

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."

Secrets Fine Food

Photo: The Straits Times

What: Opened last November, the shop in Tiong Bahru offers restaurant-quality produce mainly from France.

Products include cheese from acclaimed French cheesemonger Herve Mons (prices start at $9 for 100g of French cheese Gabietou from Pyrenees). You could also pick up artisanal jams ($19 each for a 220g jar) with flavours such as raspberry, blood orange and strawberry from French jam maker Christine Ferber.

There is also Bordier butter by French butter craftsman Jean-Yves Bordier in flavours such as espelette chilli pepper ($8.50, 125g), seaweed ($8.50, 125g) and smoked salt ($6.80, 125g).

A range of Bordier yogurt ($4.50, 125g), produced by a farmer in Brittany, with flavours such as coconut, raspberry, blueberry and lime, is available too.

Do not miss the range of cold cuts, which include coppa ham ($19 for 100g) and vuletta pork cheek ($19 for 100g) from the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

There is also a range of Il Borgo del Balsamico balsamic vinegars and condiments by Italian sisters Cristina and Silvia Crotti.

Prices start from $14 for a 250ml bottle of balsamic vinegar cream.

Online shopping and home delivery are available.

Where: Block 55 Tiong Poh Road, 01-02, open: 11am to 8pm (Tuesday to Friday), 10am to 8pm, (weekend), closed on Monday

Info: Call 6221-2107 or go to www.secretsfinefood.com.sg

Little Farms

Photo: The Straits Times

What: Specialising in Australian produce, the two-month-old Little Farms grocer carries a wide fruit selection, along with a variety of dips, snacks and sauces.

Think large Panama passionfruits, sweet Ladyfinger bananas and creamy Shepard avocadoes.

Party-worthy snack condiments include gluten-free dips ($8.98) from Aussie brand Roza's, which come in flavours such as beetroot, walnut and pomegranate; artichoke and garlic; and chargrilled capsicum.

You can also find Turkish dips ($10.80 each) from Mediterranean restaurant Efendy in Sydney. Options include eggplant baba ghanoush dip with pepita (Spanish for pumpkin seed); and pomegranate and sumac hummus.

Other highlights include soda ($19.98) from New Zealand soda company Six Barrel Soda Co and pasta sauces ($13.98) from Sydney- based Italian chef Luca Ciano.

Little Farms will start its online platform and home delivery service by June.

Where: Valley Point Shopping Centre, 491 River Valley Road, 01-20, open: 7.30am to 9.30pm daily

Info: Call 6262-0619 or go to www.facebook.com/LittleFarmsGrocer/

Gyomu & Megumi no Sato

Photo: Gyomu & Megumi no Sato

What: The hypermart in Big Box in Jurong East now has a section for Japanese produce. This new partnership comes under BB & G-7 Retails, a subsidiary of TT Group, which operates Big Box.

Currently, Megumi no Sato - a chain that focuses on agricultural products - has 21 outlets in Japan and the branch in Big Box is its first overseas venture. Gyomu is a supermarket chain with more than 700 stores in Japan that caters to wholesale and bulk-buy purchases.

Prices for Japanese produce are kept affordable. For example, prices for Fuji apples start from $5 for three. At the Isetan supermarket in Westgate mall, a Fuji apple costs $6.90 each.

Other produce includes Kumamoto tomatoes ($6 for three) and kidney beans from Okinawa ($3 for 80g). You can also buy groceries, such as bonito flakes ($19.60 for 500g) and a litre of Caesar salad sauce ($9.70) in bulk.

Where: Big Box Hypermart, 1 Venture Avenue, Level 1, open: 10am to 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 10am to 11pm (Friday and Saturday)

Info: m.facebook.com/BigBoxSG/

Midtown Mart

Photo: Midtown Mart

What: It may not be as big as Japanese food hall Emporium Shokuhin in the same mall, but Midtown Mart still packs plenty of Japanese products, from confectionery items and snacks to household goods.

A collaboration between Japanese restaurant chain Tampopo and the Japan External Trade Organisation here, the store opened in January. The chain is called Daikoku in Japan and operates more than 80 supermarkets. This is its first overseas venture.

New products are brought in every week, such as Hikari six-grain and vegetable soup ($6 for a pack of four) and seaweed soup ($2.50 for a pack of three). There is also a wide selection of coffee and tea from Japan, such as Tsujiri matcha milk ($9.80).

Midtown Mart carries exclusive products that are handmade or produced in Kyoto too. Visit the shop on Tuesday for the latest shipment from Japan.

Where: Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard, 03-130A, open: 11am to 9pm daily

Info: www.facebook.com/Midtownmart

This article was first published on April 10, 2016.
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