Social enterprises should keep food prices low

Social enterprises need to make a profit to be viable in the market, but they must seek to generate more social value rather than solely profits ("More hawker centres to be run by social enterprises"; Dec 21).

I have patronised a few NTUC Foodfare outlets and found that their food and drink prices are not as low as expected.

For instance, compared to the Foodfare outlet in Ang Mo Kio Hub, one can get much cheaper food at the nearby hawker centre at Block 724.

Once, an elderly woman having a meal of rice with vegetables, meat and potatoes lamented to me that her lunch cost $3.50. She said she used to pay less on Mondays - Foodfare's Elderly Day - but the discounts are no longer available.

From my observation, NTUC Foodfare acts more like a landlord and lets its tenants dictate how much they can charge customers.

If this is the case, people involved in such a set-up are not really social entrepreneurs; they are stall owners operating a business.

If hawker centres are able to provide decent meals at lower or more affordable prices, it is appropriate to leave them as they are.

To fulfil its objectives, especially in keeping prices low, social enterprises would have to engage social entrepreneurs, and not business entrepreneurs.

Jeffrey Law Lee Beng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2016, with the headline 'Social enterprises should keep food prices low'. Print Edition | Subscribe