10 firms receive $5m to create healthier food

Wholemeal noodles being weighed at Leong Guan Food Manufacturer's factory before being packaged.
Wholemeal noodles being weighed at Leong Guan Food Manufacturer's factory before being packaged.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

HPB aims to develop staples with wholegrain or brown rice without compromising taste and texture

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

Under the Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme, the companies will produce staples with healthier ingredients, such as wholegrain 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, launched in July this year, will see the HPB committing $20 million over three years.

Giving an update on the scheme yesterday, HPB chief executive officer Zee Yoong Kang said the 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," he said.

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

Leong Guan Food Manufacturer took the media on a tour of its factory yesterday.

It has six products that use wholegrain and brown rice as part of the ingredients. The products currently have between 10 per cent and 20 per cent brown rice or whole wheat content. The company hopes to increase this over the next year.

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

Managing director Lim Hock Chai said most consumers are still resistant to switching to healthier options. The sale of the products is less than 5 per cent of the company's total sales, he said.

"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... 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.

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 that if consumers replace one-fifth of every bowl of white rice with brown rice, they can reduce the risk of type two 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2017, with the headline '10 firms receive $5m to create healthier food'. Print Edition | Subscribe