Cafe owners worried as home bakers rise as 'rivals'

Home baker and bodybuilder Yu Huimin enjoys baking unique "guilt-free" protein loaves and muffins for health buffs like her.
Home baker and bodybuilder Yu Huimin enjoys baking unique "guilt-free" protein loaves and muffins for health buffs like her.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

But greater oversight of those who do not need to be licensed could stifle hobby baking

From low-carb protein loaves to mango sticky rice tarts, more home bakers here are whetting appetites with their unique artisanal offerings. As they work from their own kitchens and do not run a brick- and-mortar shop, they are not required to be licensed by the National Environment Agency.

Most sell their products through word of mouth and social media.

However, concerns have surfaced over whether the authorities should be keeping a closer tab on the industry. In a forum letter published last month, Ms Chong Siew Yen, 41, highlighted how home bakers who sell their products to the public are putting licensed bake shops at a disadvantage.

"We are competing with a higher cost, which includes rental, utility bills and licence fee," she wrote.

Home bakers come under the Housing Board's Home Based Small Scale Business Scheme, which allows them to practise "baking on a small scale for sale" in homes "without turning the flat into a bakery".

But Ms Chong, who owns The One Bake Shop in Toa Payoh, and other cafe owners The Sunday Times spoke to believe that such a definition is a grey area that home bakers could exploit. "I've noticed several of them selling their baked goods to corporate clients and even catering a spread for functions," she said.

Ms Jessica Loh, who started dessert cafe Shiberty Bakes this month, said: "If I sell my cakes to my friends, is that not commercialism in a minor way?"

After baking from home for about four years, she decided to open her cafe at Owen Road. "If you want to reel in the big clients, they will definitely require you to be licensed and operating in a commercial space," she explained.

However, running a cafe in Singapore is extremely costly, she added.

"It makes the business very cut-throat."

For housewife Shireen Shen Jega, 31, home baking has become a viable way to pursue her passion while selling her bakes for a small income.

The mother of two, who has been baking cupcakes and customised cakes for the past three years, has dreamt of opening a cafe, but the high costs of doing so has held her back on several occasions.

Clamping down on home bakers would stifle opportunities for those who are simply pursuing it as a hobby, she added. "We have only one person doing the baking and that's definitely not going to generate a lot of business, compared to an established bakery," she said.

"In today's tough economy, we should be looking for opportunities to help everyone supplement their incomes."

Other home bakers believe that their baked products serve a niche market that would complement, rather than compete, with others in the industry.

For instance, 22-year-old Singapore Management University undergraduate and bodybuilder Yu Huimin enjoys baking "guilt-free" protein loaves and muffins for other health buffs like her.

A loaf, or a set of eight muffins, costs $13.20 and she receives about two orders of each every week. She earns about $80 a month from home baking. "I bake protein products that have really good macro-nutrients. I even label them for customers if they are tracking their diet closely," said Ms Yu, who has enjoyed baking since she was 13.

Though she believes some form of regulation of the home baking industry is necessary, in particular to ensure food hygiene, she added that this could be difficult to enforce.

"Most bakers do this on an extremely small scale, like me. If all bakers had to be licensed, it would probably greatly reduce the number of recreational bakers who don't rely on this as a source of income."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Cafe owners worried as home bakers rise as 'rivals''. Print Edition | Subscribe