10 companies so far receive $5 million in grants to produce healthier staple foods

Leong Guan Food Manufacturer is embarking on research and development to increase the wholegrain content of their wholegrain noodles. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Leong Guan Food Manufacturer is embarking on research and development to increase the wholegrain content of their wholegrain noodles. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Ten companies so far have received grants totalling $5 million from the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to create healthier staple foods, about five months after it launched a scheme to subsidise such efforts.

Under the Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme (HIDS), the companies will produce healthier options, such as using whole grain and brown rice in noodles - without compromising the taste and texture - and substituting palm oil products with lower saturated fat options.

The companies include noodle makers Tan Seng Kee Foods and Leong Guan Food Manufacturer, as well as oil and rice products manufacturers Lam Soon Singapore and Sengkang Trading Enterprise.

The scheme, which was launched in July this year, will see the HPB committing $20 million over three years.

Giving an update on the scheme on Tuesday (Dec 12), HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang said the current take-up rate among noodle manufacturers is very low at only about 2 per cent.

"With products like noodles, there is more of a challenge than with oil, because there is a change in taste and texture. However, HPB is determined to get the market penetration level to 10 per cent by 2020," said Mr Zee.

The participating companies will conduct research and development aimed at creating healthier products that taste as good as the traditional options, he added.

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One of the companies, Leong Guan Food Manufacturer, took the media on a tour of its factory on Tuesday.

It has six products - including kway teow and yellow noodles - that use whole grain and brown rice as part of the ingredients. The products currently have between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of brown rice or whole wheat content. The company hopes to increase the amount over the next year.

Currently, Leong Guan's mee pok, mee kia and fresh noodles contain 20 per cent wholegrain, while its kway teow and mee tai bak contain 10 per cent wholegrain. They aim to increase the wholegrain content of all their wholegrain wheat noodles to 20 per cent. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

The Straits Times sampled the kuay teow and yellow noodles, and found that the taste and texture were highly similar to the traditional versions.

Leong Guan's managing director Lim Hock Chai said most consumers are still resistant to making the switch to healthier options.

The sale of the products comprises less than 5 per cent of the company's total sales, he said, estimating that about 5,000 servings of their healthier noodles are consumed daily.

"It takes some time for Singaporeans to accept these new options. Until then, we will work with dining establishments to try to introduce these products. We are even going to the extent of telling stalls that they can offer their customers dishes with our healthier products, and if the products do not sell, we will take them back," he said.

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Mr Lim added that more needs to be done in terms of marketing to create more consumer awareness of the health benefits.

The HPB said for every bowl of white rice, if consumers replace one-fifth with brown rice, they can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 16 per cent.

Dr Annie Ling, HPB's director of policy, research and surveillance, said: "About 80 per cent of Singaporeans eat at least one portion of noodles a day. Over many years, the amount consumed is considerable and as such, the cumulative impact of replacing the noodles with healthier options is significant."

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