Business Times | 18 Jan 2021 | Lynette Tan; Additional reporting by Lelia Lai
ONGOING supply chain issues and unpredictable demand due to the coronavirus pandemic are making it hard for food manufacturers and suppliers in Singapore to do their usual roaring business during the peak festive seasons.
For some, the supply chain issues resulted in missed opportunities to capitalise on demand from locals un- able to travel over the holidays.
Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff, which produces nut snacks under the Camel brand, faced a shortage of some products as a result of delays in Its shipments of raw ingredients from various countries.
“There were incidences of port disruptions, large spikes in shipping costs from China, and also shipping delays due to suppliers unable to book shipping vessels,” said managing director Poh Ah Seng.
The company’s Christmas sales were still similar to that of the year before, as it was able to sell more of other products in its range. However, “it also means that we could have done much better, if we had received our raw materials on time, as this year many of our fellow Singaporeans are here on our sunny island, feasting on all kinds of local food,” said Mr Poh.
Similarly, Zoe Anastasis Trading, which supplies dried goods, had to import a smaller range of products this year. Instead, the company brought in larger quantities of products which were “more suitable to the majority of our customers,” said partner Wong Ze Lin.
“Of course, not all customers were happy with the fewer options we had,” said Mr Wong.
Huber’s Butchery, on the other hand, had to close its Christmas orders early due to overwhelming demand. “It was so difficult to predict demand for Christmas in 2020 as we had never experienced this situation before,” said Andre Huber, executive director of Huber’s Butchery. “We did not know if customers would dine out more or throw home parties as this was also dependent on the ruling governing gathering size and alcohol curfew,” Mr Huber added.
With Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day now about a month away, supply disruptions also mean that some food manufacturers, like Seng Hua Hng, are incurring more costs as they ramp up production to make up for lost time.
These challenges appear to have prompted some food manufacturers to seek out more warehouse or cold storage spaces, to hold more stocks as a buffer.
Tan Boon Leong, executive director of capital markets for industrial at Knight Frank Singapore, said that the real estate consultancy has received “more supply chain-related enquiries” in recent months, especially from businesses covering the entire food production or distribution chain. The spaces are being used in a variety of ways, including as ingredient storage, central kitchens and distribution outlets.
However, warehouse space supply has been tight due to competing demand from the stockpiling of masks, sanitisers and essential food items, said Mr Tan, adding that rentals have been trending upwards by 10 to 15 per cent now since the start of last year.
Generally, food manufacturers and suppliers’ ability to stock up is also constrained by the shelf life of produce and sales performance, which is especially unpredictable during the pandemic.
As a purveyor of quality chilled meats, Huber’s Butchery will have to shoulder the higher freight costs to secure space on flights for meats with shorter shelf lives, said Mr Huber. Chilled chicken meat, for example, can only be kept for up to a week.
Shuichi Sato, CEO at Phoon Huat, added that shelf-life management costs need to be considered. The company operates a warehouse of over 200,000 sq ft with seven different temperate zones to control product quality.
In addition, products with short shelf lives need to sell fast enough so that the company can import “commercially feasible” volumes, Mr Sato said.
Some food manufacturers and suppliers are thus finding it more practical to diversify their sources of supply or give more lead time to their suppliers instead.
Annabella Patisserie, which specialises in making macarons, has what it calls a +1 strategy-keeping on hand alternative suppliers for the same or next best ingredient-after facing a shortage of key baking ingredients, like flour, before Christmas.
Meanwhile, Colden Bridge Foods Manufacturing, which specialises in processed meats, is providing its suppliers with a 12-month forecast of its orders. “This allows our suppliers to plan and prepare beforehand if there is a sudden need to procure more supplies,” the company said.
For the end-consumer, Mr Poh quipped, the good news is that Seng Hua Hng’s nuts in the market now are all from the latest crop, and freshly roasted from the oven.
SINGAPORE: Baking, according to the chief executive of baking ingredients supplier Phoon Huat, is an activity that brings “peace and happiness to the home”.
“The aroma of cakes is the best flavor to make everybody at home smile,” said Mr Shuichi Sato.
The 55-year-old is speaking very much from personal experience.
He bakes at least once a month and counts florentines with generous servings of hazelnut and walnut as his best item. While mostly self-taught, Mr Sato had opportunities to perfect his hobby by learning from professional bakers at his previous jobs – some of which were bakeries that he supplied ingredients to.
But more than satisfying taste buds, he finds baking an enjoyable family affair and one that never fails to bring back warm memories of time spent in the kitchen with his mother.
“I enjoy baking a lot,” he told CNA during an interview earlier this week.
And more people have been discovering the joy in mixing flour, butter, sugar and eggs, and turning them into decadent desserts with their home ovens in a year upended by a pandemic.
Last year, Phoon Huat saw demand from retail customers go through the roof, particularly during the “circuit breaker” period where people were cooped up at home.
“Out of the blue, many people started baking. Thanks to YouTube videos and easy-to-use pre-mixes, the barrier to entry is getting lower,” said Mr Sato, who took up the top job at the baking ingredients supplier in 2018.
Noticing the trend, Phoon Huat started offering online classes as an alternative after its baking studios were shut during the circuit breaker. These have received “decent positive responses”, and the company intends to keep at it to whet the appetite for recipes and baking advice among home bakers.
It is also looking at opening two new stores this year.
This will come on top of the four stores it opened last year, namely in Bukit Panjang, Jurong East, Yishun and Pasir Ris, which took its total number of stores to 18 across Singapore.
Demand from seasoned and new home bakers was a bright spot for Phoon Huat amid a pandemic-fuelled downturn, noted Mr Sato, and the company saw the need to expand its retail business in response to the shift.
The trend still has potential, he added. “Now that people have experienced how they can bake and produce a decent product, and the time for baking … brings about more family bonding, I think this will last.”
But 2020 was not all smooth sailing for the 74-year-old company. In particular, the two-month circuit breaker from April to June last year was “very challenging” as it raced to keep its retail stores operating under COVID-19 rules and grappled with a big hit on its business-to-business (B2B) segment.
On the retail front, it rolled out safe-distancing measures, stopped cross-deployment of employees across retail outlets and shortened opening hours in a bid to balance safety and manpower constraints.
It also implemented a system of odd or even-numbered days in which people were let into the store depending on the last digit of their identity card numbers, among others to manage queues.
But this did not stop long lines from forming in front of its stores. Customers also became frustrated when they could not get hold of baking staples such as flour and eggs.
Mr Sato acknowledged that some of these fast-selling items ran out at its stores for a few days, but stressed that it had stocks given its diversified supply chain spanning 900 suppliers worldwide.
The problem was in packing these ingredients that came in large quantities, such as flour in 25kg bags and cream cheese in nearly 20kg blocks, into smaller sizes for retail customers due to the smaller workforce allowed at its factory and warehouse.
Its suppliers overseas also had problems keeping up with demand.
“This home-baking trend is global, not just in Singapore, so even our supplier in Australia is being challenged because packing materials were not available,” he said.
“We want to open the store but from logistics, warehouse, production to retail, it was all under constraint,” Mr Sato recalled. “Bottlenecks everywhere.”
Meanwhile, construction work stopped at its new stores. This meant a pushback in rolling up the shutters, with the opening of the Bukit Panjang store delayed by almost three months.
Its B2B arm, which supplies to more than 4,000 hotels, restaurants and cafes in Singapore and forms the bulk of its business, took an even bigger hit.
“Three of our top 10 customers were almost closed during the circuit breaker, (which means) our sales became zero. The goods that we prepared were challenged and to shift that to retail is not that easy, because who will buy 20kg of cream cheese?”
Order cancellations flowed in and Phoon Huat had to write off some of the goods with a short shelf life. It also faced some “very limited” delays in payments.
“We accommodated all the cancellations and we also kind of close one eye (sic) for the payments,” Mr Sato said.
Since then, the situation among its business customers seems to have improved. While those in the hospitality sector remain nowhere near their heydays, bakeries and cafes that operate in residential areas “are now back to normal”, he added.
Asked how Phoon Huat fared in annual revenue last year, the chief executive officer said it remains comparable to the S$100-million milestone set in 2017.
“You may say, we managed to survive. The drop from B2B has been recovered by retail,” said Mr Sato.
Moving forward, Phoon Huat plans to roll out a new online shopping platform around June.
Its e-commerce site was launched last March after two years of preparation, but there can be room for improvements such as being more user-friendly.
So far, online sales “have been growing” but it is “not significant yet”, said Mr Sato.
Asked about the company’s pricing strategy, he noted that Phoon Huat will “always try to be the most affordable” in necessities such as flour, milk and sugar.
“We also have our customer relationship management scheme called the RedMan Rewards where people can gain points. I’m almost sure that for most of the items available at supermarkets, we are the lowest in price.”
It can do so given how it makes bulk purchases to ensure supplies to its B2B customers. The company also tries to stay lean and minimise waste in costs.
But its expansion in the retail space will surely add on to cost. To that, Mr Sato said: “We try to fill the space where we don’t have a presence… A lot of our customers write in to say ‘Please open a shop here’ and we listen and follow our customers, so we are quite confident.”
Affordable rent is also top on its mind. Amid the pandemic, landlords have been more open to negotiations over rent, he added.
“Our business model cannot afford to pay high rent. We are selling S$1.80 flour so how much can we make? Our margin is very, very slim therefore we try to find affordable rent places.”
The household brand in Singapore is hoping to venture abroad. It “almost concluded” an acquisition in a neighbouring market last January but that had to be put on hold due to the pandemic.
“We just resumed discussion with some companies for our growth in neighbouring countries,” Mr Sato told CNA. This will include expanding its B2B segment and setting up brick-and-mortar stores overseas.
Asked if that could happen this year, the chief executive officer replied: “We will try.”
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.”