Pricey wagyu beef reaches the heartland

Pricey wagyu beef reaches the heartland

SINGAPORE - Singapore's appetite for wagyu beef is growing and the reach of the premium bovine has extended beyond expensive restaurants.

Heartland supermarkets and even coffee shop stalls here are serving the rich marbled flesh, with consumers increasingly willing to pay for it.

"Singaporeans are known to be foodies and have sophisticated taste buds. They want to try out different kinds of meat," said Mr Thomas Ng, 53, meat supplier Indoguna's director of sales.

Wagyu ribeye steaks, for instance, can be found at FairPrice Finest outlets and Western food chain Astons' coffee shop stalls.

Meat suppliers here said the growing popularity of wagyu has driven up its imports in recent years. Speciality meat store K&J Butchery in Upper Bukit Timah Road imports about 300kg of wagyu a month, compared with 50kg to 60kg a month in 2011.

Every month, meat company Indoguna supplies more than three tonnes of wagyu to about 700 eateries here - "slightly higher" than four years ago.

This is despite the higher price consumers have to pay. Wagyu is usually imported from Australia, the United States, Japan and New Zealand. Prices range roughly from $5 for a wagyu patty to several hundred dollars per kg.

Depending on factors such as the cut, marbling grade and breed of the cattle, it can cost about double to more than 10 times the price of regular beef.

At the FairPrice Finest supermarket in Hougang, wagyu ribeye and striploin are sold at $118 and $93.80 per kg respectively.

Regular beef ribeye and striploin cost $60.80 and $48.80 per kg.

Astons sells wagyu ribeye steak for $42.90 at coffee shop outlets in Bukit Batok and Clementi. A prime ribeye costs $15.50.

It helps that consumers here are also more educated about the different kinds of wagyu available. "Some restaurants sell wagyu of a lower grade so it is cheaper," said Mr Ng.

"People are willing to try it because most customers are price conscious."

Higher demand has also driven prices down. Mr Ng said prices have dropped by about 30 per cent compared with 2011 as more suppliers bring in wagyu now.

Said Mr Paul Dojo, 38, managing director of distribution company ADiRECT Singapore: "Prices have become more affordable but it remains in the high-end category of food like foie gras and caviar."

That is why wagyu still takes up less than 5 per cent of total beef consumption here, according to Meat Traders Association president Chung Suan Lim, 61.

He said: "Wagyu is still a very small market and consumption figures are very small compared with other meat like chicken."

This article was published on April 14 in The Straits Times.

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