Local wellness food makers on the rise



It all started back in 1997, with a lady who wanted healthy breads without additives or preservatives. Now, 21 years, five brands and 36 outlets later, Yeap Cheng Guat, founder of Cedele Group still likes to say that she is ''just a baker.''

''I felt that I could improve people's lives and health with this type of bread. There just wasn't anything like this in the market at the time,'' says Ms Yeap, who subscribes to the belief that ''you are what you eat'' and that ''food has the power to support better health''.

''My purpose has always been to feed people honest, healthy food. It is extremely motivating for me when customers come up to me at the stores and share that my food has helped them through a health challenge or made their lives healthier and better,'' says Ms Yeap.

Over the years, they have ''always made it a point to listen to customers, about what they want, what their health challenges are'' and that is how they ''evolve and come up with new offerings'' to ''stay relevant''.

They started selling salads at Cedele in 2000 because of increasing consumer demand, and they have seen year on year growth in the sales of salads.

''We even started the Toss & Turn brand in 2012 specialising in salads as we predicted this would be a major growth sector for us,'' says Ms Yeap, who shares that they were serving grain bowl salads way back in 1999 made of millet, quinoa, forbidden rice and Thai Kerabu rice.

''Our food philosophy has stayed true throughout the years. We make food that is the healthiest version of what we can make it without compromising on taste and satisfaction,'' she says.

Cedele has also recently launched new items such as glutenfree Lemon Polenta Cake made with whole lemons and a range of vegan items such as vegan smoothies made from a base of whole activated almonds and oats. Soon to be launched for Christmas is the Vegan Chocolate Berries Pie with a pie crust made from rolled oats and olive oil and a filling that is a mix of couverture chocolate and organic sprouted tofu ''for a creamy mouthfeel that is as rich as dairy cream''.


Range of fresh cold pressed juices from EGA Juice Clinic.


In 2011, Sumit Nanda weighed 100kg and was taking pills regularly for high blood pressure, diabetes, allergies and sleep issues.

Things got so bad that his brother forced him to consult Ayurvedic physician Dr Ratheesh that same year.

With an emphasis on healing the root cause of lifestyle disorders, Dr Ratheesh put him on a detox diet of only freshly cooked food and supplements, such as turmeric and amla - one of the few fruits that have five (sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and astringent) of the six tastes categorized by Ayurveda, and especially beneficial for the digestive system. Nr Nanda, the co-founder of EGA Juice Clinic (EGA is age in reverse) now weighs 75kg, and has recovered fully from high blood pressure and diabetes. It has been over five years now and he has not popped a single pill since.

He wanted to spread the word and opened the first space in Cluny Court in 2017.

''I was looking for a clinic space for Dr Ratheesh, but we decided to do an experience centre instead, to tell people: 'this is what you need to do'. For example, one day of juice fast every week, plenty of amla,turmeric and fresh juices every day,'' says Mr Nanda, who hails from India but has been based in Singapore for eight years.

What started out as a passion project has flourished in a relatively short period and they opened a second shop at Forum Galleria in September 2017, followed by Marina One in July 2018, and another one in Holland Village by December this year.

But it's not all about the money.

''Preventive healthcare, and food as medicine is the Ayurvedic philosophy.

Itake it as my duty to spread this as I have benefited so much from this. We are not doing this just for making money, or for just running a business. It is about helping someone make a difference to his or her health. That is why we never do smoothies, we don't mix random fruits, and we don't do it for taste,'' he shares.

As Mr Nanda once told a customer, ''My job is not to sell you the bottle of juice. My job is finished only when you come back and tell me you have benefitted. You tell me you feel better, then my job is done.''


Kombucha and kefir in different flavours.


Before they started Craft & Culture, Winnie Ong and Lai Zhiwei were colleagues in a private equity firm, but it wasn't until a 2015 business trip to the US that they discovered a mutual love for fermentation.

Ms Ong, who has a master's degree in medical sciences and did her graduate research at Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine, has been brewing kombucha- a naturally fermented tea drink that can be traced back to ancient China - since her undergraduate days in 2005.

She had health problems at the time, and a Russian friend introduced her to kombucha.

She found that it helped clear her system, gave her a ''smooth move'' every morning, and improved sleep quality. She then started brewing kombucha at home, and tried to introduce it to her friends and family members to no avail.

''I had to explain it was tea fermented using a SCOBY (which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), and they would associate fermented foods with spoilt food,'' Ms Ong recalls.

Meanwhile, Ms Lai, who has since left the firm, had been making milk kefir - a cultured probiotic dairy drink - as an alternative to steroids to treat her daughter's food allergies and eczema. Now nine, the girl's condition is much improved.

The duo's colleagues suggested that they supply their fermented drinks to the office.

Business grew as they started a Facebook page and took part in farmers' markets and pop ups.

To keep up with demand, they moved into a production facility at the end of 2017.

Currently they are training a team to help with roadshows and bottling, but production is stil helmed by them as they want to maintain the quality of their brews, which can take over a month to make.

While this is still pretty much an indie industry with more home brewers than businesses, the trend is on the upswing.

''Some critics say that this is a fad, but kombucha and kefir are not new. They have been around for centuries, and they are still around today. So the products do have longevity and we believe they are here to stay,'' they say.


This story was first published on The Business Times. Click here to read the original story.