HPB offers subsidy to suppliers in bid to help food operators switch to healthier oil

Dining out may get healthier for Singaporeans this year, as a new subsidy could help food operators lubricate the transition to cooking with healthier oil.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) is launching a new scheme today to reduce the price difference between healthier staple ingredients and their unhealthier counterparts.

The Healthier Ingredient Subsidy Scheme will offer the subsidy to suppliers stocking healthier items. Cooking oil is the first ingredient under the scheme, which subsidises oils with a saturated fat level of 35 per cent or lower.

Dr Annie Ling, director of HPB's Obesity Prevention and Management Division, said: "Cooking oil is a main source of fat in our diet.

"We are particularly concerned with the oil used in preparing food eaten away from home, as consumers have very little control over what is used.

"More than 90 per cent of our food operators use high saturated-fat cooking oil."

A high intake of saturated fat is typically accompanied by a low intake of unsaturated fat, which is more beneficial.

The subsidy for oil suppliers of 50 cents per kilogram of oil is meant to bridge the price gap between the pricier healthier oils - which include blended vegetable oils - and unhealthier oils such as certain types of palm oil with high levels of saturated fat.

Suppliers enjoying the subsidy will have to pass down the savings fully to wholesalers and distributors, who must in turn sell the oils at an affordable price to food operators, such as restaurants, hawker centres and caterers.

For instance, after the subsidy, a $28.50 standard tin of healthier oil could be sold for $20, the same price as that of a tin of regular oil.

Consumers can identify which food outlets are using healthier oil through decals issued by HPB, which will conduct regular audits to ensure that the outlets are using the subsidised ingredients.

Mr Lua Eng Jee, 50, general manager of oil supplier Ngo Chew Hong, said he plans to apply for the subsidy to "reach out to new potential customers who are keen to explore switching to healthier cooking oil".

According to Dr Ling, making the switch to healthier oil would result in a 15 per cent reduction in overall saturated-fat intake, lowering the risk of cardiovascular heart disease among Singaporeans by 3 per cent to 5 per cent.

The subsidy is good news for food operators such as Soup Restaurant and Loving Hut, which are already bearing the cost of using healthier oil at their outlets.

Soup Restaurant's business development head, Mr Ang Kian Peng, 37, said: "There is a big demand for healthier oil, but customers are conscious of having to bear additional cost and compromising on taste. The subsidy will help us in managing the cost."

Mr Koh Chin Peng, director of vegan food chain Loving Hut, said more customers are demanding healthier dishes.

"Even for our catering, more than 80 per cent of our customers request the healthier-choice menu now," said the 52-year-old.

For health-conscious consumers like fitness trainer Linda Oh, the subsidy is encouraging. Ms Oh, who is in her 50s, normally avoids eating out. "It's scary that you don't know what kinds of oil they are putting in your food."

If the subsidy makes healthier dining options more widely available and affordable, she said she and her family might consider dining out.

The application for the healthier oil subsidy is open from today until March 20. Later in the year, HPB plans to introduce a similar subsidy for whole grains.

oliviaho@sph.com.sg