Going nutty over artisanal food in Singapore

Founders of Crateful Joey Gan and Angela Phua (both above) want to give support to the producers of artisanal food here.
Founders of Crateful Joey Gan and Angela Phua (both above) want to give support to the producers of artisanal food here. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Citizen Pop’s Mr Edwin Lim and Ms Imelda Mo (both above) want to let people know that there can be healthy alternatives to regular soft drinks.
Citizen Pop’s Mr Edwin Lim and Ms Imelda Mo (both above) want to let people know that there can be healthy alternatives to regular soft drinks.-- PHOTO: CRATEFUL
Citizen Pop.
Citizen Pop. -- PHOTO: CRATEFUL
The Blend & Press Co..
The Blend & Press Co.. -- PHOTO: THE BLEND PRESS & CO

You can now shop for artisanal food and drinks by home-grown purveyors under one roof. A pop-up store opened in Tiong Bahru's Yong Siak Street last month, showcasing offerings such as granola, jams and nut butters. It is the brick-and-mortar version of new online e-commerce retail platform Crateful, which will launch later this month.

Set up by two Singaporeans, Mr Joey Gan, 31, founder of jams and conserves company GSH, and Ms Angela Phua, 28, founder of Brew by A.muse Projects, a tea company that makes speciality tea blends, Crateful is essentially a collective that hopes to raise awareness of and provide support to the growing artisanal food and beverage industry here.

An artisanal food and beverage producer refers to a specialised craftsman who usually uses a traditional or non-mechanised method of production, making things in small batches and from scratch.
Crateful's pop-up store stocks the wares of its more than 20 vendors, priced from $4 for a small jar of jam. It will run till Dec 31.

The collective was formed in April with fewer than 10 vendors, including Mr Gan and Ms Phua.

The two meet each potential vendor to better understand his philosophy and to taste the product.

Other factors they look out for include whether things are made from scratch, the use of quality ingredients and if the company is a local start-up.

Products are provided to Crateful on consignment and it takes a cut from the sales of the items.

Vendors who are part of the collective include granola companies The Edible Company and Eastern Granola; Citizen Pop, a soda company; and producers that sell nut butters and spreads such as almond and pistachio butters. Other producers in the collective sell nougat, chilli and cold-pressed juices, among other things (see other stories).

Ms Phua, a former corporate banking executive, says of starting the venture: "We want people to realise that we have a growing number of artisanal food producers in our own backyard and get people here used to the idea that things can be made in Singapore or by Singaporeans."

Aside from Crateful's e-commerce site, which retails the vendors' products, the collective will also provide support by setting up stalls at farmers' markets to showcase products.

Many vendors are small-time operators who either run the business on their own or with a few business partners and may not have the manpower to run stalls in more than one flea market at a time.
Mr Gan, who used to be a civil servant, says: "Vendors lose out on opportunities when they can't be in two places at once. That's where we come in."

Vendors say support is key in promoting the culture of artisan producers here.

Ms Yang Qiaoru, 29, owner of 11/2-month-old home-grown juice smoothie and jam company The Blend & Press Co., says: "Being part of Crateful helps to extend the reach of my products. The whole idea is about being part of and supporting one another within a like-minded community."

rltan@sph.com.sg
Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

Crateful Pop-up Store is at 1M Yong Siak Street, open: 10am to 7pm (Monday to Saturday), 10am to 6pm (Sunday), till Dec 31. E-mail hello@crateful.com.sg, go to www.crateful.com.sg or www.facebook.com/crateful.com.sg. The e-commerce site is slated to go live later this month.

CITIZEN POP

Who: Imelda Mo, 26, and Edwin Lim, 28
What: A home-grown soft drink company that makes its soda by carbonating fruit juices and teas
Price: $5.50 for a 350ml bottle
Info: E-mail citizen pop@gmail.com or go to www.citizenpop.com.sg

From peeling and juicing the fruits to bottling the drinks to making delivery rounds, Ms Mo and Mr Lim do everything for their two-man soft drink company.

Bottled sodas come in two flavours for now - Lemon Thyme and Apple Ginger - although other flavours are available at pop-ups and farmers' markets.

One thing unique about the beverages is that they are made with fresh juices and herbs as well as teas.

For the most part, their sodas do not contain sugar, save for the Lemon Thyme flavour, which has "a little bit of" refined sugar in it to make up for the sourness of the lemon juice.
The juices are blended with herbs and spices before they are carbonated with a kegerator.

"The sodas are made by carbonating the juices, not by adding soda water to syrups or concentrates," says Ms Mo, who worked as a client servicing executive in an advertising agency for two years until she left last December to focuson the business.

Mr Lim, her business partner who used to work as a supply chain consulting executive in the finance industry, also runs a separate gelato business and splits his time between the two set-ups.
Ms Mo was inspired by the cold, refreshing fruit sodas that are widely available in Bangkok.

But she wanted to put a healthy spin on them by carbonating juices instead, and without artificial additives.

"I wanted to create something that would not be too sweet, yet is interesting and fun," she says.

"I want to let people know that there can be healthy alternatives to regular soft drinks."

The duo, who are tight-lipped about their start-up costs, rent a central kitchen in Eunos to produce their drinks.

They churn out about 1,000 to 1,200 bottles of soda a month, which they supply to nine cafes, including The Lokal at the corner of Neil and Bukit Pasoh roads and SPRMRKT in McCallum Street.
The drinks are also stocked at the Crateful pop-up store in Tiong Bahru.

The demand for their sodas is growing and while Ms Mo will not reveal figures, she says they are now looking to scale up production.

THE BLEND & PRESS CO.

Who: Ms Yang Qiaoru, 29
What: A range of juice smoothies that include chia seeds and oats; and four jams with no added sugar or pectin, a thickening agent
Prices: A 250ml smoothie costs $10, while jams will be priced from $14 to $18 for a 200ml jar; 50ml jars will also be available but prices have not been finalised
Info: E-mail hellothere@blendnpress. com or go to www.blendnpress.com

Entrepreneur Yang Qiaoru entered the popular cold-pressed juice scene about 11/2 months ago. Instead of offering just blends of the increasingly ubiquitous juices, hers come with a twist: They are non-dairy fruit juice smoothies that include chia seeds and oats.

There are 21 smoothie flavours, including Strawberry Rhubarb Kale and Honey Orange Coconut Pineapple.

Later this month, she will roll out a new line of jams, made without sugar or pectin, a thickening agent derived from plant cells. The jams, which come in flavours such as Orange Fig Walnut and Strawberry Vanilla, are fruit reductions that also include chia seeds, which are known for having high levels of omega 3 and vitamin B.

The idea for her business, says the former client servicing advertising executive, stemmed from the lack of healthy food options readily available to office workers on the go.
She says: "Healthy food choices for busy office workers always seem to be limited, and it is such a chore to pack food from home."

Ms Yang, who left her advertising job in January, would depend on her own blend of smoothies - which take her just a few minutes to whip up - to tide her through hectic work days.

The other good thing about smoothies, she says, is that they are handy. The drinks are delivered chilled to customers and should be consumed within six days. They do not contain preservatives, artificial flavouring, additives or additional sugar.

Her new range of jams is also inspired by the dearth of wholesome options in the market.

She found that most conventional jams and spreads contained a lot of added sugar.

Her jams, which use only natural sugars found in fruit, take 30 minutes to 11/2 hours to make, depending on the quantity and type of fruit. As these jams do not contain preservatives, they can keep for only two to three weeks in the refrigerator.

She currently has four types of jam but hopes to offer up to eight in the future.

She put in about $10,000 to start the business and, while she is passionate about her offerings, she is also realistic about the cut-throat F&B scene.

She says: "I guess if it doesn't work out, I can always go back to advertising."

NUTTEREE
Who: Ms Janine Campbell, 34
What: Two variations of pure homemade butter - Honey & Sea Salt Almond Butter and Sea Salt Almond Butter; and a dark chocolate hazelnut butter
Price: $14 for a 190g jar of almond butter, and $16 for a 190g jar of dark chocolate hazelnut butter
Info: Go to nutteree.com

Those with peanut allergies who still crave peanut butter now have a homemade alternative to commercial offerings - Nutteree's Almond Butter and Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Butter.

Eurasian television producer Janine Campbell decided to create her own almond butter from scratch when she could not find a commercial one that suited her palate. The Singaporean found out last year that she had developed an intolerance to peanuts and peanut butter.

She used to make a breakfast protein shake that included ingredients such as banana, spinach, almond milk and peanut butter. But every time she drank it, the drink would make her feel "heavy and nauseated".

One day, she ran out of peanut butter and realised that without it in the shake, she no longer felt sick.

Over the years, she has eaten countless peanut butter sandwiches but had always attributed her queasiness to gluten intolerance.

The idea to start her own almond butter company came about in May. Before that, she had been experimenting with recipes for a year.

Her almond butter is made by slow-roasting the almonds and then processing them into a butter in a food processor. There are two versions - one that is made with just almonds and sea salt, and another that also includes raw honey and olive oil in addition to sea salt.

Ms Campbell, who is married and has no children, says: "My friends and family were my guinea pigs."

While her sea salt almond butter was a hit with many, some found it too savoury for them, which was why she decided to create a honey sea salt version.
She started selling jars of wares through her website at the end of July.

Earlier this month, she created a new dark chocolate hazelnut butter which is being retailed exclusively at Crateful this month. It will be available for purchase on her website from next month.
The butters, which do not contain preservatives, can keep for up to a month from its production date if stored in the refrigerator.

MOFO CHILI
Who: Sisters Monica Josephine, 27, and Steffi Elvira, 25
What: Spicy chilli made with Indonesian bird's eye chillies from Manado in Sulawesi
Price: $10 for a 200g jar of Dodge The Bullet chilli (spicy); $12 for a 200g jar of Final Destination (spicier)
Info: Call 9223-8663 or e-mail contactmofochili@gmail.com. Go to www.mofochili.com

Singapore-based Indonesian sisters Monica Josephine and Steffi Elvira pooled $1,000 last December to start a new chilli brand. Called Mofo Chili - Mo for Monica, and Fo for Foi, which is Steffi's nickname - the product came about after friends encouraged them to turn their homemade condiment into a retail brand.

Their vegan-friendly chilli is made with bird's eye chillies and onions, among other ingredients.

The sisters, who moved here in 1997 from Jakarta, love the kick that chilli gives to dishes. They found themselves craving it when they went overseas for further studies - Monica to Britain's University of Leicester, where she studied finance, and Steffi to hospitality school Glion in Switzerland.

Monica, a Singapore permanent resident, recalls: "I would stash a bottle of our homemade chilli in my bag and whip it out at restaurants."

Besides her Singaporean and Indonesian friends, her British, Greek and British-Indian friends loved it too.

The sisters, who now work in sales for a training solutions company, would also make chilli for friends.

The secret to their piquant chilli is the type of bird's eye chilli that is used, says Monica. Sourced and imported from Manado in Sulawesi, it is different from the variants available here. Besides red, Manado's bird's eye chillies also come in colours such as yellow, orange and green.

Monica says: "The rich volcanic soil in Manado makes its chilli very different from the Vietnamese and Malaysian varieties. Manado's chillies have much more flavour."

The sisters, who are single, sell two chilli versions - Dodge The Bullet, which is milder, and Final Destination, which is spicier as it is made with twice the number of bird's eye chillies. They make about 150 to 200 bottles of chilli in a restaurant kitchen in the Buona Vista area fortnightly, and these sell out each time.

Last weekend, they launched Mofo Kimchi ($8 for 200ml) at the Kranji Countryside Farmers' Market. It is likely to be available at Crateful from the end of this month. Monica says of the new product: "Unlike bottled kimchi sold in supermarkets, ours does not contain preservatives and also has a fiery kick to it."

THE EDIBLE COMPANY
Who: Genevieve Lee, 34
What: Handmade granola with ingredients that range from dried fruit to nuts Price: A 350g bag is priced at $14 each
Info: E-mail hello@theediblecompany.com or go to www.theediblecompany.com

She grew up eating processed foods. But after her father, now 67, underwent a heart bypass about nine years ago, Ms Lee decided to adopt a healthier lifestyle. She made sure her family did too.
She started making items such as cereals, tomato sauce and salad dressings from scratch.

A few years ago, she started giving her homemade granola as Christmas gifts to friends in a bid to encourage them to shun supermarket versions which are usually laced with preservatives and sugar. Her friends loved it and encouraged her to start selling it.

Now, the freelance video editor, who is married to Mr Matthew Woon, 31, head chef of a Mexican restaurant in Duxton Hill, runs The Edible Company, which currently sells four variations of homemade granola.

Although she set up the company two years ago, she started retailing her granola only in February this year, through her website.

She now sells about 40 packs of her granola each week, and also customises a special coffee granola blend for local cafe-roastery Dutch Colony Coffee Co.

The granola, which is made weekly in a central kitchen in the MacPherson area, can keep for up to 60 days.Everything is made from scratch.

Other versions include one with cranberries and almonds and one made with maple syrup, pecans and almonds. Her most recent creation is the Almost Perfect Cacao And Roselle Granola, a chocolate granola inspired by her Coco Pops-eating childhood.

She started her business with just $500 and while she has recouped that initial investment, she has yet to draw a salary from her company, something she hopes to do in a couple of years.

She explains: "I can't put an amount to the effort and energy that I have put in. With a start-up, it always takes a couple of years to start making money. A salary (at this point in time) doesn't justify or quantify my passion."

POPPY & CO
Who: Ms Jacqueline Koay, 28
What: Halal-certified home-grown Speculoos Cookie Butter manufactured in BelgiumPrice: $14 for a jar with a nett cookie butter weight of 400g
Info: Go to www.poppyandco.me/
For the uninitiated, Speculoos Cookie Butter is a spread - think Nutella or peanut butter.

It is made with Speculoos, a type of shortcrust biscuit that includes spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

The spread, which is popular in Europe and the United States, is often viewed as an alternative to peanut butter and is suitable for those with peanut and other nut allergies.

Poppy & Co's founder Jacqueline Koay hopes to fill a gap in the market, given that the spread is still relatively unknown here.

She started selling her version of Speculoos Cookie Butter in July, after discovering it while holidaying in the United States last November.

A friend of hers had asked her to buy a jar of the spread from American grocery chain Trader Joe's when he heard she would be visiting New York.

At the time, she says, she had no idea what Speculoos Cookie Butter was. But she figured that since her friend thought it was so good, she ought to buy a jar for herself too. She tried it and was hooked.

The entrepreneur in her saw a chance to offer a version of the spread that would better suit Singapore and Asian tastebuds - less sweet and with less spice than that of Trader Joe's.

In January, Ms Koay, who is engaged, quit her job as an executive in an export company and started baking her own Speculoos cookies and making cookie butter from scratch to get her recipe down pat.

She also conducted her own research among friends and bakery owners
So, armed with her market research and a recipe, she approached local manufacturers in the hope that her Speculoos Cookie Butter could be made here.

But she was turned down repeatedly, likely because the product was new and because she was an untested client, a new entrepreneur with no background in food and beverage, she reckons.

Then, she approached manufacturers in Malaysia, The Netherlands (where Trader Joe's makes its product) and Belgium (where other brands of Speculoos Cookie Butters are made), to see which factory would entertain a first-time business owner.

Dozens of factories turned her down, but one in Belgium said yes.

She invested $60,000 in the business and her first batch of 8,000 bottles arrived in July.

So far, she has sold about 3,300 jars and supplied 460 wholesale 1kg tubs of her cookie butter to cafes and bakeries here.

Now, her brand of Speculoos Cookie Butter is sold at nine bakeries and eateries, including Fluff Bakery in Jalan Pisang and Bloomsbury Bakers in Bendemeer Road.

She also works with bakeries to see how they can incorporate it into their offerings - perhaps in churros, she says - and hopes to offer a range of cookie butters, from Oatmeal And Raisin to Chocolate Chip, soon.

The home-grown label will make its way to shelves in Indonesia in the months to come.

She says: "I hope Speculoos Cookie Butter can become the next Nutella or Salted Caramel. It's time for Singapore to have a new flavour.