New hawker centre's prices easy to digest

Mr Chan (in red) and chef Eric Teo at the official opening of Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market. The food stalls are open at least six days a week and 12 hours a day to ensure that there are enough dining options for residents in the area.
Mr Chan (in red) and chef Eric Teo at the official opening of Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market. The food stalls are open at least six days a week and 12 hours a day to ensure that there are enough dining options for residents in the area.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Bukit Panjang food centre a hit among residents with price caps on basic dishes

A hawker centre that has price caps on some basic dishes in a bid to keep them affordable has generally been welcomed by customers and stall owners. There are also plans to share a similar model across Singapore, if it works out well.

Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market, which was officially opened yesterday, is managed by NTUC Foodfare and is among the first new centres, totalling 20, that the Government said it would build by 2027.

According to a survey conducted with almost 500 nearby households in March by the National Trades Union Congress' social enterprise, residents visit the Bukit Panjang hawker centre "regularly", with 43 per cent going daily.

NTUC Foodfare sets price ceilings for at least two basic dishes at each food stall at the centre, with other prices subject to moderation.

In setting caps for stalls, it referred to Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) surveys of more than 500 hawker stalls around the island. It also had its own survey of eateries in the centre's vicinity.

For example, NTUC Foodfare proposed a $2.50 price cap for a plate of chicken rice after finding out that the dish sold for between $2.50 and $3 near the centre, and between $2 and $4 based on a 2014 Case survey.

NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing said at the Bukit Panjang hawker centre's official opening yesterday: "If this works out well, I think we will go forth and be prepared to take on a greater responsibility to share the same model across the whole of Singapore."

He added that NTUC Foodfare is "building a central kitchen to provide even more affordable, accessible and quality food".

"By putting in place price moderation practices, NTUC Foodfare is able to ensure that good and tasty food is affordable to Singaporeans," he said of the Bukit Panjang hawker centre, which he hopes will become a community hub for residents.

Housewife Lim Siok Hauy, 61, has breakfast there daily with her family and finds the food affordable and the service good.

The stalls are open at least six days a week and 12 hours a day to ensure that there are enough food options for residents in the area.

Besides NTUC Foodfare, a Fei Siong Food Management subsidiary had also been appointed by the National Environment Agency to run Ci Yuan Hawker Centre in Hougang. It is also among the 20 new centres.

Out of the 28 stalls in the Bukit Panjang hawker centre, two are operated by NTUC Foodfare.

They are the drinks stall and food stall Rice Garden, where ComCare cardholders may have a rice meal comprising two vegetable dishes and one meat dish for $1.50.

There are 27 Rice Garden stalls in Singapore, and NTUC Foodfare aims to raise this number to 40 by the end of this year.

Stallholders such as Mr Eric Chiam, 53, owner of NTP Western and Grill, supported the moderation of prices.

Besides benefiting the public, he said, it does not affect his business much and is reasonable, as the price caps are imposed on just two basic dishes.

Others, such as stall assistant Valerie Lee of Beauty World Hakka Handmade Yong Tau Fu, find the concept meaningful.

However, the 44-year-old added: "If rental could be adjusted as well, the burden on stallholders would be lighter."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'New hawker centre's prices easy to digest'. Print Edition | Subscribe