Wet markets go upmarket

Stall owners are selling premium produce such as tomato on vine, kale and alfalfa sprouts to stay competitive

Stalls in Tekka Centre are offering kale, endives and salad leaves (above). -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Stalls in Tekka Centre are offering kale, endives and salad leaves (above). -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Stalls in Tekka Centre are offering kale, endives (above) and salad leaves. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Stalls in Tekka Centre are offering kale (above), endives and salad leaves. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Premium vegetables commonly used in Western cooking are sprouting up more commonly in the heartlands.

Produce such as Brussels sprouts, kale and Belgian endives are now found next to staple vegetables such as chye sim and bak choy in at least five wet markets here.

They are Marine Terrace Market, Tekka Centre, Empress Road Market, Holland Village Market and Food Centre and Tiong Bahru Market.

While some of the stalls at these wet markets have been stocking a small selection of these kinds of vegetables since the early 2000s, more do so now as demand for such premium produce has gone up by between 30 to 50 per cent in the last two years.

Mr Chan Ah Chye, 43, who runs a vegetable store in Empress Road Market and Food Centre, said: "You cannot survive if you have only common vegetables. Singaporeans are well-travelled, educated and tech savvy. They want variety."

Besides vegetables used frequently in Asian cooking, Mr Chan sells seven kinds of potatoes, including New Zealand red potatoes, at $4 a kg. He also stocks salad leaves, tomatoes on the vine and Australian red onions.

The influx of foreigners in some neighbourhoods has contributed to the demand of such produce.

Mr Ong Kah Sze, 54, who has been selling vegetables in Tiong Bahru Market for eight years, said in Mandarin: "This place used to be an ageing estate, but there are a lot of young people and foreigners living in Tiong Bahru now. They want these kind of vegetables and even the older folks buy these for their children."

The store owner started selling xx/xxvegetables such as alfalfa sprouts and pearl onions in 2012. About a third of his customers are foreigners.

Premium vegetables often have a hefty price tag that is two to five times more than that of the common types.

For instance, tomatoes on the vine which have been flown in from a greenhouse in Holland can be up to five times more expensive than tomatoes imported from a neighbouring country.

The reason: It costs at least double to import premium vegetables from places such as Australia, Europe and the United States compared to the common varieties from Asian countries.

So premium vegetables in wet markets are not necessarily cheaper than those in supermarkets. For instance, 300g of kale costs about $8 at Cold Storage, and $8.40 at a shop in Tekka Centre.

Some wet market vendors said that they make a profit of only about 10 to 15 per cent from selling such expensive produce.

But greater variety can help fight competition from supermarkets said Mr Ang Kian Hua, 45, who runs a vegetable stall in Tiong Bahru Market.

Mr Ang, who sells Brussels sprouts, parsnips, Belgian endives and mixed salad leaves, said: "Usually customers go to the supermarket to buy what we do not have. But as we stock more of these kinds of vegetables, they can buy everything they want from us."

Housewife Christine Neo, 34, has noticed the growing variety offered by wet markets near her Bedok home and at Marine Terrace Market.

She said: "The salad leaves at Marine Terrace are as fresh as those found in supermarkets and it is very convenient to buy them from here."


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