New National Museum exhibition shows how food packaging in Singapore has evolved

Packaging Matters: Singapore's Food Packaging Story from the Early 20th Century aims to bring back memories for some, and provide a source of wonder for others. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Remember when Coca-Cola used to be sold in glass bottles in the 1980s? Or those old-school Khong Guan biscuit tins?

These food packaging of the past may bring back memories for some, but also provide a source of wonder for others.

This is what a new exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore - titled Packaging Matters: Singapore's Food Packaging Story from the Early 20th Century - aims to achieve. It runs from April 6 till Sept 15.

Featuring a multitude of vintage food packaging, the exhibition will showcase artefacts from familiar brands, including various drink bottles, labels and the containers in which the products came in, such as tea boxes or cans containing instant drink mix.

Visitors will see how the designs of labels have evolved over time, into those that we see on shelves today.

The exhibition, part of the Singapore Heritage Festival, also highlights the significance of sustainability in food packaging.

For instance, McDonald's well-known Big Mac was snugly held in a clam-shell polystyrene container back in 1975. This showed the preference for convenience in fast food culture in the 1970s and 1980s, with a reliance on disposable containers. McDonald's transitioned to paper containers in the 1990s, a practicethat remains until today.

Further into the gallery, visitors will also come across the sustainability area and family-friendly corner, which houses three projects largely made from recycled materials that were contributed by home-grown eco-artist Didier Ng.

Mr George Huang, who works in his family's business, Amoy Canning, which sells sauces and condiments, tells The Straits Times how the company's products started off packaged in clay jars, but slowly evolved to cans for easy shipping, then bottles, and finally the plastic packaging of today.

However, Mr Huang, 69, who is also the managing director of the company, which was started by his grandfather, remains mindful of the use of plastic in their packaging. The company has come up with designs to reduce the amount of material used in their product packaging, along with moving towards smaller pocket-sized bottles of oils and sauces to minimise waste when they cannot be finished.

The interactive exhibition will also have audio-visual stations and 'feely' boxes to create a sensory learning experience.

Says Ms Vidya Murthy, 54, the curator: "Each object here can tell many stories. It is not so much the commercial value of the object, but the signifance and symbolism that these objects convey to us."

"We hope this exhibition gives visitors a fresh perspective of our history through a topic close to many Singaporeans' hearts - food - and by extension, food packaging."

During the opening weekend, there will be activities such as a Food and Craft Market, a storytelling session by author Lianne Ong, live music performances and craft activities. Children can also take part in the Artefact Hunt.

VIEW IT: Packaging Matters: Singapore's Food Packaging Story from the Early 20th Century

Where: National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road

When: April 6 to Sept 15

Admission: Free


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