The Straits Times | Jul 15, 2020, 1:29 PM | Goh Yan Han
SINGAPORE – To support the President’s Challenge, a National Day-themed fund-raising campaign titled Share The Care was launched on Wednesday (July 15).
The Families For Life council is raising funds through the sale of specially curated desserts with a red-and-white theme, and an e-recipe booklet from Wednesday till Aug 15.
The e-recipe booklet contains contributions from President Halimah Yacob and local bakeries, as well as celebrity Fann Wong.
Madam Halimah said: “I am happy to contribute my own National Day agar-agar recipe to Share The Care to raise funds for President’s Challenge.
“The initiative is meaningful, especially with this year’s President’s Challenge’s focus on supporting and empowering persons with disabilities.”
The President’s Challenge is an annual event that mobilises resources to help the less fortunate. The event, in its 20th edition, will raise funds for 72 organisations this year.
Madam Halimah added: “May this spirit of giving continue to grow as we support one another on this journey towards a caring, inclusive and more resilient Singapore.”
To receive the e-recipe book, make a donation through the Families For Life’s Share The Care page on the Giving.sg fund-raising platform.
Families For Life chairman Ishak Ismail said he hopes that families will enjoy making the special desserts together and even share them with neighbours and friends.
He added: “While this year’s National Day will be unlike any other, let us stand united and celebrate together in meaningful ways, supporting the vulnerable in our community.”
This year’s National Day Parade and celebrations will focus on allowing Singaporeans to celebrate in their homes and in the heartland, instead of at a central location such as the floating platform at Marina Bay, because of the Covid-19 pandemic and safe distancing measures.
Non-governmental organisation Minds, which caters to those with intellectual disabilities, will be baking limited-edition red and white cookies, which members of the public can order through its website.
All proceeds from the sale of the cookies will be donated. Baking ingredients supplier Phoon Huat is sponsoring the baking ingredients.
Phoon Huat will also be selling special agar-agar kits, which include five pre-mix packs and a copy of Madam Halimah’s recipe, from July 20 at its 15 retail stores.
Each kit costs $10, and $4 will be donated to the President’s Challenge.
Another way to support the cause is to purchase red and white National Day-themed desserts from participating partners, such as Metta Cafe and bakeries Delcie’s, Divine Artisan, Pare, Kueh Ho Jiak and The Cookie Crumble.
As part of this campaign, POSB will also be donating up to $50,000 to the President’s Challenge between July 20 and Aug 31.
DBS Bank consumer banking group executive director Lim Bee Bee said: “National Day is a celebration of unity, solidarity and community spirit.
“While we may not be able to physically celebrate together this year, we can still unite to make a meaningful difference through our collective effort to help families and neighbors among us who have been harder-hit by Covid-19.”
The Straits Time | Jun 14, 2020, 5:00 AM | Tan Hsueh Yun
From working around the clock to investing in a new machine – baking ingredients supplier Phoon Huat and flour miller Prima share challenges they faced to fuel home bakers during the circuit breaker period.
When all this is over, when life gets to whatever the new normal is going to be, people around the world might look back at how the coronavirus pandemic got them to wear masks as part of daily life, got them accustomed to working from home, got them elbow bumping instead of shaking hands.
And got them baking.
The world hunkered down to flatten the curve of infections. People stuck at home at a bewildering time sought – and continue to seek – comfort in combining flour, sugar, eggs and milk to make something delicious.
Follow a recipe and something golden brown and smelling wonderful will surely emerge from the oven. That ritual, in constant repeat mode everywhere, is a surefire win at a time when victories are hard to find.
Seasoned bakers upped the ante and tackled more challenging recipes. Newbies got in on the act. Social media continues to be flooded with pictures of muffins, cakes, bread and those Basque cheesecakes with the burnished tops.
In Singapore, the surge in demand for baking ingredients rivalled that for toilet paper and instant noodles. It was as if everybody had the same idea. Gotta bake.
The result of that groupthink? Supermarkets shelves were cleaned out of flour of every kind. Butter. Sugar. Yeast. Cream cheese.
Ingredients people had been taking for granted disappeared temporarily.
Two companies in Singapore – baking ingredients supplier Phoon Huat and flour miller Prima – faced a challenging time.
How they worked out the kinks to answer the loud demands from home bakers is a hard-won victory in the Covid-19 chronicles; case studies for how to be nimble in a crisis.
WRITE-OFFS AND COMPLAINTS
There was one point during the circuit breaker period when Phoon Huat was battered from all sides.
It supplies some 5,000 of about 7,000 hotels, restaurants, cafes, food-processing factories and central kitchens here; but many of its food service customers cancelled their orders, when eating places could no longer have dine-in customers.
Mr Shuichi Sato, its chief executive officer, tells The Sunday Times that Phoon Huat faces delays in payment and has been unable to contact some of its business customers, even.
He says there will have to be write-offs, because some of the ingredients it supplies are perishable, or have a short shelf life.
There were challenges on the retail front too.
The authorities complained that queues outside its retail stores stretched too long. The wait was, at times, two hours to get in.
Customers became frustrated when supplies dried up temporarily. They went to the company’s Facebook page to complain loud and long; about the shortages, about long queues, about the shorter opening hours, about online orders with items that were sold out and could not be delivered.
When, in a bid to manage queues, it implemented a system early last month in which people were let into the store on odd or even numbered days depending on the last digit of their identity card numbers, there was another uproar. Why was a non-government company collecting identity card information?
Frustrated customers took it out on the company’s staff. Some employees broke down in tears.
“Very drama,” says Mr Sato, adding that the company was just trying to manage queues and did not record the information.
It stopped this system on June 2, when Singapore emerged from circuit breaking to Phase One, and the clamour for ingredients eased.
He says that sales usually go up by 10 to 20 per cent during Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Christmas. But when the circuit breaker began in earnest, the company started seeing spillover customers, who could not buy flour, pasta and yeast in supermarkets.
There was also a run on these products on its online store, which it launched in early March.
Mr Sato says: “We went from zero deliveries a day to a few hundred deliveries a day now.”
SHIFTS AROUND THE CLOCK
Similarly, Prima’s sales go up during Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Christmas, by 20 to 40 per cent.
Mr Steven Yeo, general manager of Prima, says sales peaked last month, at 3.5 times more than a typical month last year. But it had been seeing a steady increase since March, when sales inched up to 1.5 times the average monthly figure last year.
The irony is that while home bakers were desperately seeking flour, there was plenty of it.
Both Prima and Phoon Huat say they had sufficient stock, but faced challenges packing it into retail-friendly sizes.
What home baker, even an avid one, would contemplate buying a 25kg sack of flour?
Mr Yeo says: “We had ample stock and wheat in our silos to meet the increased demand. Our diverse and secure sources of wheat from various continents ensure our constant supply.”
He adds that Prima, which was established in 1961, has been working with some of these suppliers for more than 50 years.
“We were working round the clock, with two staggered shifts,” he says. “Despite that, our flour was flying off the shelves faster than we could bag and pack them and retailers could replenish them.
“Retailers were asking for more stocks and we also received consumer inquiries on where to find our flour. We had sufficient stock of wheat and flour, but we had maxed out our capacity for household packs.”
So Prima invested in a new packing machine.
“The machine was sourced and installed in nine days,” he says. “From April 24, our production and engineering teams worked to get it up and running. They even worked over two weekends and public holidays.”
The new packing line started operating on May 3 and Prima was able to increase its packing capacity for household packs by 75 per cent.
This flour was delivered directly to stores, so customers could get their hands on it quickly.
PACKAGING AND LABOUR WOES
Phoon Huat too, found it challenging to package big quantities of flour, cream cheese, yeast and other ingredients into retail-friendly sizes.
Like other companies, it faced limits on how many workers could work at any one time. Overseas suppliers also had problems packing ingredients into smaller-sized retail packs because of the shortage of packing materials worldwide.
Mr Sato says: “We had stock, fortunately or unfortunately. That’s why we could keep supplying consumers. But we didn’t have enough packing capacity. We had tonnes of cream cheese; in 2kg, 14kg packs.
“Who would dare to buy 2kg of cream cheese? Our Australian cream cheese suppliers didn’t have packaging material for small packs. Our flour supplier in Italy had sleepless nights changing the packaging from 25kg to 1kg.”
During the circuit breaker period, Phoon Huat, a 73-year-old company with about 400 employees, saw its staff quota reduced to about 150.
There could only be 150 employees in total working in its factory, in logistics and in its retail shops. The company instructed support staff to work from home, and cut the operating hours for the retail shops.
Mr Sato says: “With the reduced manpower, our factory and logistics faced a crunch and stocks in the shops were compromised as retail packs were not produced fast enough. We appealed to the Ministry of Trade and Industry for an increase in staff quota and it was restored to slightly over 300.
“Then, we were able to engage external temporary staff, who were on no-pay leave from their jobs in other industries, for example the airline industry, to help out in our retail shops.”
Some production lines – for flour, premixes and packing – operated on three shifts, instead of one, for two to three weeks last month.
The online site, which started with just three staff, now has nine people to process orders.
Mr Sato, who has been on the job for two years, adds that there is stock now allocated to the e-commerce part of the business.
“Almost all orders can be fulfilled,” he assures.
BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD
In the midst of all this, the search for new sources of ingredients never ends for both companies.
Phoon Huat recently launched flour from Vietnam and Malaysia. It is in discussions to bring in a Japanese brand of flour. It now carries the premium Tomiz brand of baking ingredients, and there are plans to pack its flour in Singapore, to reduce the cost to consumers.
Later this year, it will open two more retail stores – in Bukit Panjang Plaza and Jurong East – to bring its total number of stores to 16 across the island.
The bulk of its business used to be supplying food businesses. Now, Mr Sato says, it is half business to business and half retail.
The viral baking craze took the company by surprise.
Mr Sato says: “Young or senior, male or female baking enthusiasts appeared. Baking has become a family bonding activity and also a favourite pastime at home, with the sharing of recipes via social media.”
Indeed, even as it grappled with customer complaints, the company’s Facebook page was a sea of serenity and positivity, with recipes and videos for making rainbow cookies, bubble tea and souffle pancakes.
To ride on the baking craze, Prima plans to share recipes using its products on its website. There are also plans to organise more baking contests and collaborations with household appliance brands, when it is safe to do so.
Mr Yeo adds: “Almost everyone was posting about baking adventures on social media. From butter and sugar buns to Hokkaido milk bread to sourdough bread, consumers were creating all types of bakes. Some even baked together with friends on Zoom. We are heartened that consumers have turned to baking and cooking during this period.”
Will The Great Singapore Bake Off continue?
Whatever happens when the world opens up again, bakers here can count on one thing. There will be enough flour. In 1kg packs.
SINGAPORE – You meet the most interesting people waiting in line for baking goods.
There is Ms Do You Hear The People Sing. Ejected after she was caught sneaking in line without a queue number, she delivers a two-minute speech audible to everyone in the line – and, I think, to people in the next building – about how our system had failed her and everyone in it. She exits, stage left.
Under social distancing rules, only ten persons are allowed in the store and another ten in the queue. The rest have to wait for a text message allowing them into the line. It is a decently long wait. People get upset. They cheat. They are ready to revolt.
After a short intermission, Ms Sing is back for part deux. In my head, she is Jean Valjean from Les Miserables: She wanted bread, but found injustice. She makes another rousing call to arms, but I guess no one feels like joining her at the barricades, so she leaves.
It has been extraordinarily busy at all RedMan and Phoon Huat baking product stores during the circuit breaker period. Stuck at home, visions of homemade rustic loaves and brioches danced in everyone’s heads. Mine included. Two weeks ago, I baked bread for the first time in a decade. And I absolutely did take and share pictures of it. I’m not a psychopath.
My heart sinks when Ms Sing appears a third time, here on a Saturday morning at the RedMan store at Heartbeat @ Bedok where I am helping to control traffic.
With theatrically deep regret, she informs me – and everyone within a 10m radius – to delete her name from the waitlist because she could no longer tolerate the mistreatment of honest citizens. I write her wish on a sheet of paper, using slightly larger arm movements so people in the back can see.
She finishes singing the song of angry men and leaves. For the last time, I hope. I am not sure I can take another rendition. Just my luck, Mr Zero Stars For You takes over. He has deliberately parked himself within earshot of me.
He is the Asian Parent of grumblers. He doesn’t shout. He is not angry, just disappointed. He quietly lists the areas where I have been found wanting as an employee and as a human being.
“Alamak. Look at that woman in there, taking her sweet time. No shopping list, just walking rooound and rooound,” he says, stretching the “round” in a singsong way that implies that she is lingering on purpose just to annoy him.
“You should chase her out. But you don’t want to. That’s your problem. Are you sure there are 10 people inside? I see eight. Did you check? Don’t you want to count?” he goes on.
I get an hour of this. He is my impostor syndrome given a voice. He is my anxiety internal monologue. Just before I reach the depths of despair, his number is called and he leaves to join the physical queue. Tonight I will dream of being called to the principal’s office.
Here at the RedMan store, there is a fairly simple queue system in place. Leave your mobile number, then wait for the text that tells you to join the line.
As luck would have it, Mr Zero Stars For You is only one of several queue-system scientists in line today. What are the odds that such a collection of experts would be in the same place at the same time?
They catch my eye and shake their heads and go tsk tsk, then tell me gravely that if their expertise had been sought before all this, there would be no waiting at all. Plus, world hunger will be abolished and all single persons will find true love.
The store opens at 10am but when I show up at 8.30am, staff are already there, tidying and restocking. Fresh stock arrives from the warehouse. There are cheeses and milk to be put away. And almonds.
Bakers, we need to talk about this almond business. I can handle sorting the packs by weight. But almonds come in blanched and unblanched, varied by whether they are whole, diced, sliced and, if I remember, subcategorised into unmassaged or massaged, then further sorted by Swedish, Shiatsu and Thai. Why? What unholy compendium of recipes are you using that is causing me to stare at a shelf for minutes wondering where a pack should go?
Anyway, I have to look the part of a RedMan employee and it fools some people. A customer shows me a sheet with “feuilletine” on it. I’m busy with almonds so I want to tell him, “sorry, she doesn’t work here any more,” but I think better of it so I ask my trainer for the day, the very patient and sweet Ms Lody Austria, the store supervisor.
As it turns out, feuilletine is a baking, er, thingy. Throughout the day, Ms Austria, an avid baker herself, as employees here tend to be, is not only a guide but also a dispenser of baking advice – yeast can be used past its expiration date if frozen, so no worries buying the bulk pack if you can’t get a small package. Milk with a few drops of lemon juice is a substitute for buttermilk, for example.
I head home just after lunch. I am happy for the experience because after working from home for the last three months, I miss being around people. Checking my smart watch’s health app, I see my resting heart rate has gone up, from its usual 70 beats per minute to 90.
Being around people is great, but being around Singaporeans in a queue? I like helping people, but I don’t think my heart can handle the drama.
Over the course of the ‘Circuit Breaker’, many Singaporeans have picked up baking as their new hobby to pass the time.
Yet, getting baking supplies during the period proved to be somewhat of a challenge, thanks to long queues and higher demand, among a myriad of other reasons.
Well, if you’re planning on baking yourself some delicious bread or pastries this weekend, you might be in for some good news.
As we enter Phase 1 of reopening, popular baking supplies store Phoon Huat announced via a Facebook post on Tuesday (2 Jun) that it will be doing away with its ddd/even dates requirement.
In the Facebook post, Phoon Huat said the decision to abolish the system was due to shorter queues and the “easing up” of the current situation.
Despite the removal, they urge customers to follow other safe distancing measures so their store remains safe for everyone.
These include shopping alone, keeping shopping time to under 10 minutes and scanning of SafeEntry QR code before entering their store premises.
All of its outlets are open from 10am-7pm. Check out the nearest store near you via the website here.
Introduced entry restriction based on last digit of NRIC/FIN Earlier last month, Phoon Huat – as well as its subsidiary, Redman – introduced the ddd/even dates entry system in early May that only allowed access to shoppers according to the last digit of their NRIC/FIN.
The measure was aimed at cutting down the long lines seen outside the stores.
The removal of the Odd/Even Dates entry restriction at Phoon Huat will certainly come as great news for Circuit Bakers who picked up baking during the 2-month ‘Circuit Breaker’.
That said, please adhere to the measures put in place by the store to help keep everyone safe
The Straits Times | May 17, 2020, 5:00 AM | Eunice Quek
A handwritten piece of paper, stuck on a box outside baking supplies store Phoon Huat in Toa Payoh, states that ingredients such as baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder are out of stock.
The same ingredients are missing from many shelves in supermarkets and grocery stores across the island. Shops and retailers, however, insist there is sufficient stock.
The only problem: They cannot replenish shelves fast enough because of a baking frenzy brought on by the circuit breaker measures and Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which falls on May 24.
Meanwhile, at Phoon Huat in Toa Payoh, customers wait in line, getting their temperatures and identity cards checked before entering.
This is a typical scene at shops run by the Phoon Huat chain, which also owns the Redman by Phoon Huat outlets. As part of social distancing and contact tracing efforts, all 14 outlets have in place a queue management system and digital check-in system, SafeEntry.
The queue system requires an individual to give his or her mobile number to get a queue number via SMS stating the waiting time. Upon receiving a second SMS, customers can join a shorter queue to enter the shop.
But check the date before heading to a store. Entry is restricted by the last digit of one’s NRIC number. For instance, if it is an odd number, an individual will be allowed entry only on odd-numbered dates.
Since April 27, the stores have also had shorter daily operating hours of 10am to 7pm – regular operating hours vary across outlets – due to manpower constraints arising from split-team operations.
A Phoon Huat spokesman says: “We found the alternate visit dates effective for social distancing. The objective is to cut the number of customers by half.
Long queues at the Phoon Huat store in Toa Payoh on May 14. With more customers stocking up on baking supplies, the shop has run out of some ingredients.
“Our shops are small and with the limited (number of customers) allowed in each shop at any one time, we want to cut the queue and crowd (numbers) outside.”
Still, the measures have not stopped some of the stores’ baking ingredients from running out fast.
With more time on their hands, more people are turning to baking – from homemade bread to the trendy Basque burnt cheesecake – during the circuit breaker period.
Says the Phoon Huat spokesman: “We are unable to replenish stocks fast enough for retail customers. Whatever retail packs are produced daily are immediately sent to our shops twice a day.
“For basic baking ingredients like flour and sugar, the supply is enough. It is the retail packing process we are trying our best to increase capacity for.”
Phoon Huat’s production plant runs three daily shifts and it is looking to increase delivery slots with third-party logistics companies.
Supermarket chains are also racing to restock baking goods, for which there has been unprecedented demand.
At FairPrice outlets, sales of baking products “have increased about threefold” during the circuit breaker period compared with the same period last year, says a FairPrice spokesman. Sales have also jumped by 80 per cent in the weeks leading up to Hari Raya Aidilfitri, compared with the same period last year.
“This has resulted in periodic disruption for some of these products such as flour, baking soda and instant yeast,” adds the FairPrice spokesman. “We have ramped up supplies and are purchasing from a wider pool of suppliers to provide more alternatives.”
Since the tighter circuit breaker measures were announced on April 21, grocery store The Source Bulk Foods has been selling 25kg of flour daily – five times the usual amount – and seen more demand for vanilla pods.
Home bakers who are unable to get sufficient baking supplies have had to make do with ingredients they already have.
Housewife Patricia Tan, 52, who bakes for family and friends, looked in vain for Philadelphia cream cheese for weeks and was unable to fulfil an order for a birthday cake.
She says: “I did not want to use other brands because I cannot guarantee the quality.”
The avid baker of sourdough bread has been hunting for flour at different supermarkets and baking supplies stores, and has tried using flour from Vietnam which she bought at a FairPrice supermarket.
She says: “I don’t need yeast because I have a sourdough starter, but I can’t do without flour. And for bread, you usually need bread flour that has high protein content.”
Cream cheese, baking chocolate and chiffon cake tins were missing from Mrs Michelle Wong’s delivery from Phoon Huat’s Redman online shop last Friday.
Only seven of her 15 items arrived. She was informed via e-mail that the rest were out of stock and she would receive a refund.
The mother of two children, aged eight and 11, ordered online as she did not want to leave them at home to go to the supermarket, especially since she would likely have had to stay in the queue for a while.
She says: “I will just have to make do with whatever I have.”
Yahoo News Singapore | 29 April 2020 | Amir Hussain
SINGAPORE — Amid enhanced circuit breaker measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, more supermarkets and malls will be scanning patrons’ National Registration Identification Cards (NRICs) or asking them to enter the NRIC numbers via an online national visitor registration system as part of their contact tracing regime.
Yahoo News Singapore understands that a number of malls and NTUC FairPrice and Dairy Farm Group Singapore outlets have begun scanning customers’ NRICs or asking them to use the government-developed cloud-based check-in system SafeEntry, alongside taking their temperatures.
Among them are NTUC FairPrice outlets at Whitesands, Junction 8, Tanjong Pagar Plaza and Serangoon North Ave 1, Cold Storage outlets at Great World City and Takashimaya, ION Orchard and NEX.
By scanning a QR code, patrons can authenticate their visit to a supermarket or mall on SafeEntry via SingPass Mobile or by manually entering their name, NRIC and mobile number.
Last Tuesday (21 April), the authorities announced that temperature screening will be conducted at all supermarkets and malls. Additionally, patrons visiting a list of 16 malls with supermarkets in them and four other non-mall supermarkets with high traffic will also be required for provide their particulars for contact tracing.
When contacted on Wednesday (29 April), a spokesperson for Enterprise Singapore told Yahoo News Singapore, “We are glad to see that many malls and supermarkets have since implemented temperature screening and contact tracing, and understand that the rest will do the same in the next few days.
“We therefore advise customers to bring along their identification card when visiting the malls and supermarkets, so that they will be allowed to enter,” the spokesperson added.
When contacted, an NTUC FairPrice spokesperson said, “The latest initiative to facilitate contact tracing at our stores is in compliance with the latest precautionary measures set by the authorities.”
The spokesperson added, “FairPrice continues to work closely with the authorities and support various measures such as safe distancing, personal protection, as well as enhanced cleaning schedules to protect the well-being of our staff and customers during this period.”
Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to Dairy Farm Group with queries on the NRIC scanning and contact tracing procedures.
Visit malls, supermarkets alone whether it was considering limiting the entry of customers to supermarkets and malls by the last digit of their NRICs, or whether it was considering limiting the frequency of customers’ entries to supermarkets and malls.
Last Friday (24 April), popular baking supplies chain Phoon Huat said it will limit entry to its and RedMan shops based on NRIC or Foreign Identification Number (FIN) number.
The announcement came after the National Environment Agency said last Tuesday that it would restrict access to four popular markets – where long queues were still seen – based on NRIC/FIN numbers: Geylang Serai Market, Block 104/105 Yishun Ring Road (Chong
Pang Market), Block 20/21 Marsiling Lane, and Block 505 Jurong West Street 52. Patrons with an even last digit (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) in their NRIC/FIN numbers can only visit these markets on the even dates of the month, and those with an odd last digit (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) can only visit these markets on the odd dates of the month.
As of Wednesday (29 April) noon, a total of 15,641 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Singapore.
A total of 14 people have died from complications of the virus here while another fourpatients who tested positive for the virus have died from causes unrelated to COVID-19.