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. 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.
Growth seen by 7-Eleven Singapore in same-store sales so far this year over the same period last year, after a steady decline in sales over the past 10 years. The change in strategy appears to have helped.
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.
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.
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."