Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sales of organic foods increase as prices fall

Jessica Lim
14 October 2008
Straits Times
(c) 2008 Singapore Press Holdings Limited
Sourced from Factiva

Retailers are sourcing closer to home and cutting out middlemen

WITH a greater variety of organic produce now coming from closer to home, the prices of these foods have fallen.

Fruit and vegetables from Malaysia and Thailand, grown without pesticides and artificial fertilisers, are now in supermarkets and stores here, alongside pricier goods from Australia and the United States.

At NTUC FairPrice, 500g of organic carrots from Thailand cost $3.50, compared to $5.15 for those from Australia.

Some of the more than 30 varieties of vegetables in its 'Pasar Organic' range cost up to 40 per cent less than organic produce from countries further afield, noted the supermarket chain's director of integrated purchasing Tng Ah Yiam.

The range has logged a 30 per cent jump in sales since its launch in July.

A spokesman for the Dairy Farm group, which owns the Cold Storage supermarket chain, said prices of organic produce had also fallen at its outlets by up to 27 per cent over the past year.

Organic snow peas, for example, which cost $9.50 for 100g last year, are now going at $6.50.

This is good news for consumers in a year of rising prices.

Administrative manager Pauline Tan, 54, who has gone organic with 10 of her friends in the past year, said: 'Age is catching up with us and we realise we have to eat more healthily.'

Like her, more people believe that naturally grown foods are healthier, though research has yet to bear it out.

The rise of organic farms in the region is one factor behind the falling prices. The other is the practice of some suppliers who bypass distributors and sell directly to shops and supermarkets.

Zenxin Agri-Organic Food, for example, supplies vegetables from its farms in Malaysia to its stall, Zenxin Organic, in the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, as well as to supermarkets and stores here.

Mr Tai Seng Yee, 25, and his father began organic farming in Kelantan six years ago. Last year, their four farms were certified organic by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia.

The young Malaysian said being near his markets saves him transport and storage costs. The vegetables reach consumers in a fresher state too.

Burgeoning harvests from regional farms like his help bring prices down.

Zenxin's stall now charges $1.70 for 100g of green capsicums from Thailand; a year ago, it was charging $3.20 for Australian capsicums.

The falling prices have triggered a demand for organic produce. A Straits Times check with 10 retail outlets from supermarket chains to HDB shops here found that demand has doubled in just one year.

Mr Tan Chin Hian, managing director of major supplier Ban Choon Marketing, estimates that there are now 75 organic shops in Singapore, up from 40 two years ago.

Organic products sold here range from food to skin-care items and shampoo, but regional suppliers are currently sticking mainly to leafy greens.

This may soon change, predicted Euromonitor International research manager Yvonne Kok. She suggested that organic skin-care products and cosmetics for both men and women could be big next.

Organic Garden in Woodlands has seen customers becoming more savvy.

Storekeeper Jenny Chua said: 'When we first set up shop, people asked basic questions about sea salt. Now, they are asking sophisticated questions about nutritional content.'

Retiree Maria Tsai, 67, believes going organic is about taking charge of one's health: 'Large companies take care of only its profits. It is up to us to take care of our health ourselves.'

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