In the last five years, the Health Promotion Board has done an excellent job in pushing for healthier eating habits among Singaporeans through its series of campaigns, such as the Million kg Challenge, and most recently declared war against diabetes in 2016.
As such, the trend of clean eating has exploded in popularity, and food outlets have started introducing wholesome food options such as grain bowls and plant-based meats.
Acai bowls (Açaí na tigela), which consist of mashed acai fruit topped with fruits and nuts, have also made a name for itself in Singapore's healthy eating scene. You can find this Brazilian dish in many food establishments islandwide, including Orchard, Holland Village, and Tanjong Pagar.
Unfortunately, ordering this superfruit is not cheap. A small bowl of acai easily costs $7, and a large bowl typically sells for $14. But here are the reasons why you shouldn't feel you are overpaying or being ripped off for wanting to eat healthy.
#1 ACAI BERRIES ARE NOT YOUR COMMON EVERYDAY FRUIT
Acai berries are native to the rainforests of South America. Unlike common fruits like bananas that can grow in almost every continent, acai berries only grow on the acai palm tree, which is found in specific swampy, wet environments.
Furthermore, farmers can only harvest acai berries for sale after an average of four years. This long maturity period drives the cost of acai berries up. For comparison, a typical durian tree bears fruit after four to five years. An apple tree will start producing fruit after two years. Peaches can be harvested from a peach tree in less than a year.
There are many articles online reporting on the proven health benefits of acai. This small but mighty berry improves cognitive function, strengthens the heart, and has anti-inflammatory properties. Above all, it is well-known for being "rich in antioxidants" - a phrase that retailers are eager to state on their packaging as well.
#2 ACAI BERRIES ARE NOT CHEAP EVEN IF YOU BUY THEM ONLINE
Listed below is one of the more popular brands of acai berries you can find online. In the package, there are four packs of frozen acai bars. To prepare a bowl of acai, you will need to blend two acai packs. This translates to a cost of $6.25 per bowl.
The $6.25 cost does not account for the cost of other ingredients you'll like to top your acai bowls with, such as muesli, granola, walnuts, honey, almond butter, bananas, strawberries, and other fruits.
Preparing an acai bowl might not be very labour-intensive, but if you are thinking of blending your own at home to bring to work, think again. As acai berries must be frozen before they can be blended into a paste, they melt extremely fast, especially in Singapore's humid weather.
If you do not plan to consume it right after it's blended, you might be better off buying a bowl near your workplace instead.
#3 STALLS SELLING ACAI BOWLS HAVE HIGH OVERHEAD COSTS ESPECIALLY IN THE CBD
You are not just paying for acai berries, but other ingredients too. Acai bowls that you buy do not just contain pure acai puree - atypical $10 bowl is usually topped with a variety of fruits and nuts. Toppings such as cocoa nibs and blueberries and sauces such as almond butter are not cheap.
Most acai stalls operate within shopping malls or are a standalone store on its own. Rental in the CBD are crazily high, and miscellaneous costs such as decor and furniture for customers to sit down and enjoy their dessert has to be factored in.
Another cost that is often overlooked is marketing costs. When you walk past an acai store, are you greeted by pictures of strikingly colourful acai bowls? Owners need to hire professional photographers to produce visually appealing photographs for their marketing collaterals. Social media strategists need to frequently update the company's Facebook and Instagram to engage members of the public. An F&B team needs to constantly come up with new flavours to attract the crowd.
Although many people assume that crew members are the only ones that gets paid, there are many overhead costs in play.
GREAT HEALTH BENEFITS IN THE LONG RUN
Acai can be enjoyed in many ways, such as juice, powder, or pill form. But above all, the frozen puree option remains the most popular choice among Singaporeans. The smooth and creamy texture littered with tiny ice chunks is the perfect dessert on a hot day.
Now that you know how special acai is, the next time you visit an acai store for your fix, do not be surprised at the $10 price tag for this decadent and healthy bowl.
This article was first published in Dollars and Sense.