Home-grown brands turn up the heat on Singapore's cold desserts scene

Yogart co-owner Lee Hwai Chi with the Holy Molli, a popsicle made from avocado and lime-flavoured frozen yogurt. -- ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH
Yogart co-owner Lee Hwai Chi with the Holy Molli, a popsicle made from avocado and lime-flavoured frozen yogurt. -- ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH
Artichoke’s owner Bjorn Shen has introduced a new ice-cream brand, Neh Neh Pop, which features creamsicles inspired by junk food. -- ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH
Artichoke’s owner Bjorn Shen has introduced a new ice-cream brand, Neh Neh Pop, which features creamsicles inspired by junk food. -- ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

The heat is on.

It is not just the scorching hot and muggy weather, but demand for frozen desserts is also showing no sign of cooling off. From ice cream and popsicles to frozen yogurt and now, frozen custard, consumers have no lack of icy treats with which to beat the heat.

At least seven home-grown brands offering frozen desserts have sprung up in the past three months.

These include Neh Neh Pop, a cream-based popsicle brand by Middle-Eastern restaurant Artichoke in Middle Road, which was launched yesterday; week-old Density Frozen Custard in Short Street, which serves American-style ice cream; and Lickers, a two-week-old creamery in Hougang Avenue 1.

They add to the popular overseas dessert offerings, which have been attracting snaking queues. They include soft-serve chains Milkcow from South Korea, Honey Creme from Taiwan and Llao Llao, a Spanish frozen yogurt brand.

While owners say that the year-round hot weather here makes it viable to go into the frozen dessert business, they also recognise the need to stand out from the sea of competitors.

Neh Neh Pop is banking on its line of "cream-sicles". Thought up by Artichoke's chef-owner Bjorn Shen, they are sold from the restaurant's takeaway kiosk, which used to be occupied by its bakery, Overdoughs.

Mr Shen, 33, says: "I am a fat kid at heart who loves Magnum ice cream as it triggers happy childhood memories. Most creamsicles are mass-produced and do not showcase fun and crazy flavours on a stick."

He says that Neh Neh Pop is a cheeky and attention-grabbing name that alludes to the teats of a cow, as his popsicles are milk-based.

He drew inspiration from "childhood junk food".

Sneekers, for example, has caramel and peanut butter ice cream enveloped in caramel and dark chocolate dip and is studded with toasted marshmallows and salted pretzels.

There is also Strawberry Pockie, a strawberry ripple ice cream dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with strawberry-flavoured Glico Pocky pretzel bits. There are six flavours in all.

He adds that about 200 popsicles will be available daily, made by two pastry chefs from Artichoke.

Brother-and-sister duo Wong Jun Ren and Sherlyn Wong of Density Frozen Custard cafe hope that their American dessert concept will allow them to stand out from other ice-cream shops here.

Their frozen custard contains less than 15 per cent of air - half the amount of air that gelato contains. Mr Wong, 27, says the mixture is churned in a frozen custard machine for five minutes at minus 12 deg C.

He says: "Frozen custard has the best of both worlds; the firm texture and richness of a hard-scoop ice cream with the fresh flavours of soft-serve ice cream."

The 40-seat cafe offers three flavours daily from its repertoire of more than 40 flavours, including Madagascan Vanilla Bean and Buttered Popcorn.

He says he had an "eye-popping experience" tasting frozen custard during his undergraduate days at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Younger consumers have a sweet tooth, are always looking for new things and wow factors, though it can be a challenge to get them to be familiar with the concept of frozen custard," he says.

While frozen yogurt customised with toppings are all the rage, some businesses are rejuvenating froyo in creative new ways.

Yogart, a month-old cafe in Bencoolen Street, also offers popsicles made from flavoured blended yogurt, on top of making its yogurt in-house.

It produces about 15 litres of yogurt every two to three days and offers eight quirky popsicle flavours including Avocado Lime and Nutella Banana.

Co-owner Lee Hwai Chi, 39, a former vice-president in an investment company, says: "Yogurt is a blank canvas for us to create innovative products. Besides popsicles, I hope to branch into yogurt-based pastries and cookie sandwiches."

She took a month-long course in Carpigiani Gelato University in Italy and hopes to branch out into other frozen desserts such as gelato and soft-serve ice cream in the next year.

"More consumers are health-conscious; they are looking for desserts with lower sugar and fat content to cool down from the weather."

Riding on the popularity of desserts here is three-month-old froyo kiosk Nookie in PoMo mall in Selegie Road.

It de-constructs desserts such as Thai mango sticky rice and red velvet cake into yogurt parfaits that are jazzed up with cake crumbs, mochi and even mango- passionfruit juice spheres.

The shop's marketing manager Amanda Low, 42, says the popularity of frozen desserts is partly due to their visual appeal. She says: "More youngsters are taking photos of pretty food in order to be seen as hip."

The kiosk sells about 200 servings of froyo a day.

+39 Gelato Bar in Circular Road, which opened in March, has also branched out from serving gelato to offering sorbet-based cocktails, gelato cakes and providing gelato delivery in the Central Business District. Co-owner Stefano Cadorin, 29, says: "These are ways to reach out to more customers here, who are more open to new concepts."

Some players are cautious about the proliferation of frozen dessert joints.

One of them is Mr Sean Tan, 31, a former remisier and owner of two-month-old Everton Creamery in Everton Park, which will open its second outlet in BreadTalk IHQ in Tai Seng Streetin August. It offers 16 flavours of gelato including Matcha & Pumpkin Seed and Blueberry Cheesecake.

He says: "While the cafe-hopping culture has helped maintain the popularity of frozen desserts, there could be a consolidation of outlets due to increased competition. I think only three to four local independent brands can survive the market burst."

While consumers are spoilt for frozen dessert choices, they are also more discerning.

Advertising sales manager Catherine Chan, 31, who visit ice-cream places twice a week, says: "I am not sure how many new shops will survive the stiff competition as some of those desserts look better than they taste."

Business development manager Adeline Koh, 28, who indulges in an icy treat once a week, likes the freshness of the gelato at +39 Gelato Bar in Circular Road, which is made on the spot.

She says: "With so many options, I think I will stick to the places that serve fresh ice cream, such as +39 and Creamier in Toa Payoh, than places that are hyped up."

Administrative executive Lilian Boon, 60, who enjoys froyo at least once a week, likes that the yogurt at Yogart is not too sweet, but adds that it is less creamy than Llao Llao's.

She says: "It is always good to have more choices, so that we can go around the different shops to try out different frozen desserts."

kengohsz@sph.com.sg


ST 20150517 FROZEN4CB3 1322617m

NOOKIE

Where: PoMo Mall, 1 Selegie Road, 01-04, open: noon to 10.30pm daily

Price: From $3.50 for a serving of froyo; $6.90 for a yogurt parfait

Info: Call 9833-1790 or go to www.facebook.com/pages/Nookie-Yogurt/1593137094255723


ST 20150517 CUSTARD 8 1323851m

DENSITY FROZEN CUSTARD

Where: 4 Short Street, open: noon to midnight daily

Price: From $4 a scoop

Info: Call 6268-7918 or go to www.facebook.com/densityfrozencustard


NEH NEH POP

Where: Artichoke, 161 Middle Road, open: 3 to 10pm (Tuesday to Friday), 11amto 10pm (Saturday), 11am to 3pm (Sunday)

Price: From $7 a creamsicle

Info: Go to instagram.com/nehnehpopsg


YOGART

Where: 175 Bencoolen Street, 01-56, Burlington Square, open: noon to 9pm (Monday to Saturday), noon to 6pm (Sunday)

Price: From $2.80 for a yogurt popsicle

Info: Call 6238-0135 or go to www.facebook.com/pages/yogart/839114106151360


ST 20150517 FROZEN EVERTON3RGQ 1323733m

EVERTON CREAMERY

Where: Block 7 Everton Park, 01-11, open: noon to 9pm (Sunday to Thursday), noon to 10pm (Friday and Saturday)

Price: From $4 a scoop

Info: Call 9436-3479 or go to www.facebook.com/evertoncreamery


ST 20150517 FROZEN LICKERS 1323731m

LICKERS

Where: Block 124 Hougang Avenue 1, 01-1446, open: 1 to 10pm (Tuesday to Thursday), noon to 11pm (Friday to Sunday), closed on Monday

Price: From $3.20 a scoop

Info: Go to www.facebook.com/lickouricecream


ST 20150517 FROZEN 39 1323727m

+39 GELATO BAR

Where: 29 Circular Road, open: 11am to 11pm, Monday to Saturday, closed on Sunday

Price: From $5.50 a cup

Info: Call 6532-0380 or go to www.+39gelato.com