Beef rendang, nasi lemak made more convenient

Convenience stores are raising their game in instant food with fresher choices.

Beef rendang baked rice, salmon with cauliflower quinoa rice and nasi lemak are among ready-to-eat meals that have gone on sale at Cheers and FairPrice Xpress outlets in five Esso service stations from yesterday.

Consumers need only heat up such chilled - not frozen - pre-cooked meals for a minute before tucking in.

And, no, there are no preservatives added.

At convenience store chain 7-Eleven, ready-to-eat meals like braised duck rice, butter chicken briyani and Hainanese chicken rice line store shelves.

Taste test: 5 ready-to-eat meals from 7-Eleven

  • We tried quite a few of the pre-packaged meals available at our neighbourhood 7-Eleven on Mohamed Sultan Road and found that while there was a difference in quality between the different meals, they were - by and large - more than decent.
  • 1 star: Avoid at all costs unless you're on the brink of starvation (and even then, perhaps you should consider McDelivery?)

    2 stars: Edible. Go ahead if there are no better or cheaper options around.

    3 stars: Really quite shiok. Will eat it again even if not in dire circumstances.

  • First impressions: Looks legit. Decent amount of chicken, comes with a packet black sauce and two packets of chilli. No ginger but they do give you a packet of sesame oil to flavour the rice.
  • Taste test: This was actually better than some chicken rice I've had from hawker stalls. The black sauce is of decent quality and hasn't been watered down, and the chilli (always the most important factor where chicken rice is concerned, I think) really packs a punch; it's flavourful and spicy. The chicken wasn't amazing, but the chewy, aromatic rice makes up for it.
  • Final rating: 3 stars
  • First impressions: Nicely portioned, even comes with a basil leaf so you know they cooked it with real herbs and spices.
  • Taste test: Actually a decent curry, and fairly spicy. The chicken didn't have that distinctive "frozen", overly-chickeny taste, which is always good thing. The meat was also of good quality without too much fatty skin. All in all, we'd say it's better than some of the curries you'd find at catered buffets.
  • Final rating: 2 stars
  • First impressions: Both the chicken dish and the orange basmati rice actually look ~relatively~ close to what you get at a North Indian eatery.
  • Taste test: Super delish! Not only was the curry surprisingly creamy, this dish actually has a far lower carb content compared to the Curry Chicken with Fragrant Rice, thanks to the basmati rice. Obviously, this dish still not "healthy" by any means because it does contain a whopping 39.9g of fat... maybe try not slurp up all the curry? Fellow Go Away editor Lili also tried this and she concluded that it's something she would definitely eat again. Between this and the Curry Chicken, this is definitely the tastier option.
  • Final rating: 3 stars
  • First impressions: Portion was significantly smaller than the other meals we tried, and the colour looked "off" - the tomato sauce had this greyish tinge about it and looked terribly unappetising.
  • Taste test: This is about as good as the bolognaise you'd find in a school canteen - meaning, it's pretty bad. According to Lili, who was the unfortunate taster for this meal, the tomato sauce was bland and watery, and the few pathetic slivers of chicken, well, did not taste like chicken at all.
  • Final rating: 1 star
  • First impressions: The rice looks and the colour of the chicken looked "off" - this might be due to the bugolgi marinade though.
  • Taste test: Not terrible, but neither is it a meal you'd write home about. The texture of the pearl rice was nice and fluffy, but it was on the bland side.
  • Final rating: 2 stars

By the first quarter of next year, these dishes will replace the current range of frozen meals that need to be thawed.

Caltex petrol kiosks are also in on the action, with the introduction of sandwich vending machines in four of its Star Mart convenience stores.

They also sell beef rendang, chicken rice and claypot rice and pasta.

The interest in ready-to-eat meals is being fuelled, in part, by busy customers. "Today's consumers are time-strapped and this means a greater demand for convenient solutions," said NTUC FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng.

Cheers is FairPrice's convenience store arm. Mr Seah added that market studies have shown the increasing popularity of ready-to-eat meals.

He was speaking yesterday at the launch of a revamped convenience store format for ExxonMobil Asia- Pacific's Esso petrol service stations that features a new ready-to- eat range of products.

Instant fare gets fancier

  • A fancier version of the usual frozen microwave meals at convenience stores.
  • Three flavours, all halal-certified, are available - Soy Ginger Chicken with Mushroom, Black Pepper Chicken and Curry Chicken with Potato.
  • The Soy Ginger Chicken option comes with three whole shiitake mushrooms, but the ginger and soya flavours do not stand out.
  • For spicy meals, try House Brand's channa masala, vegetable kurma or vegetable briyani.
  • One can be fooled into thinking these soups have been simmered for hours. But no toiling over the stove is required.
  • The home-style Carrot & Potato Chicken Soup, Radish & Carrot Chicken Soup and Lotus Root & Peanut Chicken Soup just need to be poured into a microwavable bowl and heated on medium for three minutes.
  • The foil pouch cannot be microwaved.
  • The soups are not artificially sweet and not too oily, says ST's Eunice Quek.
  • Prima Taste's quick meal product range now includes local dishes with rice.
  • The four options are Curry Chicken, Nonya Sambal Chicken, Beef Rendang and Chicken Claypot Rice.
  • The beef rendang is well-seasoned and tastes like the real thing. The spiced beef is also tender, unlike the chicken pieces in the other options, which are on the dry side.
  • The Chinese chicken sausage is too soft in the Claypot Chicken Rice and there is no taste of the salted fish in the ingredients.
  • Nonya and chicken curry were found to be too sweet, but the moist rice is easy to loosen without the grains breaking into mush.
  • The meals feature a combination of white basmati rice, wholegrain basmati rice and other grains such as barley, black glutinous rice and brown rice.

The food is from local eateries - such as The Soup Spoon, PastaMania and ice cream shop Udders - supplied by The Common Good Company, a consortium made up of well-known local brands.

The meals are packed in a new type of vacuum skin packaging, which is expected to preserve the flavour and aesthetics of the food, said the consortium's managing director Anna Lim.

She said the food does not contain preservatives and can last for up to six days.

Cheers' refreshed retail format will debut in five Esso stations, including in Holland Road, East Coast Road and Jurong West Avenue 1. It will be rolled out to all 62 stations islandwide over the next two years.

For 7-Eleven, which has more than 400 outlets, besides having ready-to-eat meals replace its frozen food, more outlets are expected to have seats for customers so they can eat at the stores.

7-Eleven Singapore chief executive David Goh said the firm looked to Japan as an example, as well as the consumer-centric nature of the 7-Eleven outlets there.

The change in strategy appears to have helped. So far this year, the firm has seen a 5 per cent to 8 per cent growth in same-store sales over the same period last year, after a steady decline in sales over the past 10 years, said Mr Goh.

He attributed the increase to a widening of offerings to include stationery, groceries, personal care products and ready-to-eat meals.

Mr Peter Anthony Robertson, 53, has taken to these meals. The mixed martial arts instructor said: "I work long hours and the meals are easy to prepare. They taste good and I can store them in my fridge."

The move to ready-to-eat meals is also aligned with the Government's recent food service and retail industry transformation maps, which encourage innovative business formats and technology in those sectors, noted FairPrice.

Another push in the same direction are vending machines that serve hot food - such as seafood horfun - launched in August this year.

Read also: Hot-food vending machines on the rise in Singapore

More hot-food vending machines in Singapore

  • Will the average foodie - spoilt for choice with hawker fare and fast-food restaurants - relish chow from a machine?
  • Hot-food vending machine companies like eeZee Vending and JR Vending think so. They are among at least three companies putting their money where their machines are in Singapore.
  • What is on the menu?
  • Instant hot meals such as pizza, spaghetti and seafood hor fun within minutes.
  • Each machine can hold about 100 items.
  • Amid the tight labour market and high rental costs, food vending machines seem to be a good choice.
  • Director of eeZee Vending Axel Steyer, 46, says he had noticed a gap in the Singapore market for hot-food vending machines: "Two years ago, there were no vending machines that dispensed pizza in Singapore.

    "Manpower costs are also high here, so why not bring in vending machines?"

  • Deputy president of Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association, Mr Jimmy Soh, 46, agrees that vending machines are a good way to beat manpower costs and crunch: "Hot-food vending machines have been a growing trend in Singapore.

    "It minimises labour handling and provides ready-to-eat food any time. The cost of maintaining a machine is also much lower than maintaining a booth or restaurant."

  • TNP rates hot-food vending machine dishes and ready-to-eat meals from convenience stores.
  • TNP rates hot-food vending machine dishes and ready-to-eat meals from convenience stores.
  • TNP rates hot-food vending machine dishes and ready-to-eat meals from convenience stores.

Mr Denis Ang from Nanyang Polytechnic said that in the past, consumers were sceptical over the nutritional value of packed food. "The adoption of new technology in food handling and food safety has replaced these concerns with optimism, which has since revived demand for cooked ready-to-eat meals in Singapore."

This article was first published on Nov 23, 2016.
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