Photo: Little Farms

Little Farms – Artisanal food

491 River Valley Road, #01-20, Valley Point Shopping Centre

Opening hours: 7.30am to 9.30pm daily

Little Farms is a grocery store that isn't afraid to take on the big guys – not even the FairPrice Finest which is located just across its compact space in Valley Point Shopping Centre. In fact, it has the big supermarket to thank because "there is constantly people coming to the mall, so we already have good foot traffic," says Fred Moujalli, Little Farms' chief executive officer. "But we are not here to compete with them."

Little Farms is just five weeks old but is already drawing the crowds. It prides itself on being the grocer that offers the freshest, healthiest and cleanest groceries from trusted farmers and artisans.

Chief marketing officer Nick Barnett says Little Farms aims to be like Whole Foods Market, best-known for being the healthiest grocery store in the United States. Nearly every item on the shelf comes from Australia, where Mr Moujalli is from. He was previously the produce buying manager for Thomas Dux Grocer, and later the head of buying and procurement for My Food Bag, a home-delivery service.

The store's most eye-catching display is the fruit selection by the entrance. Depending on the day of the week, there could be passionfruit, peaches, bananas, nectarines and mangoes, along with the usual apples and oranges. "We try not to sell too many pre-packed fruits, so most items, you could just buy them loose – even a single piece if you so wish," says Mr Moujalli. The varieties of fruit that Little Farms carry tend to be different from those found in the bigger supermarkets.

For example, there are the Lady Finger bananas, which Mr Moujalli says don't turn brown when peeled. Or the Shepard avocados that still retain their creamy yellow flesh even two hours after they have been cleaved open. And then there are the Kensington Pride mangoes that are less stringy than the other varieties.

"Most of the special varieties that we bring in are not found in Singapore, hence, we regularly encourage shoppers to taste before they buy," says Mr Moujalli. For example, on a recent weekend, there was a demonstration on how best to cook and eat kale.

With his years of experience in food procurement, he has a knack for selecting brands that he believes will be popular with Singaporean and expatriate shoppers. In addition, his close relationship with food producers and farmers means that each item has traceability. "We know exactly where each item comes from," he says.

He chooses to bring in artisanal brands such as Six Barrel Soda, Booza ice cream and Luca Ciaono pasta sauces. Nearly 80 per cent of the items are what he calls "the healthy stuff", including chilled free-range meats, and gluten-free items, with the remaining 20 per cent for the occasional indulgence, such as chocolates and ice cream. Items are air-flown three times a week. Mr Moujalli quips that the company is spending "a lot" on air freight charges, but this is done to ensure freshness of the produce that reaches the shelves.

Prices tend to be slightly more than at the bigger supermarkets, but Mr Moujalli explains: "We would rather assure customers of the high quality of produce, rather than compete on prices." The shoppers tend to be a balanced mix of Singaporeans and expats who may be more familiar with the brands carried. "The locals tend to buy more fruit, vegetables and beef," says Mr Moujalli.

There are plans to add more items to the inventory, particularly those requested by shoppers. They include gluten-free breads, veal, coconut yogurt, fresh goat's milk and nitrate-free ham and bacon. "We are also looking into opening more stores, offering an online shopping and delivery service, and offering more grab-and-go food items," says Mr Moujalli.

Wendy Foo and Sebastian Chia decided to bring farm produce to Singapore after developing relationships with several small batch specialist producers in Western Australia. Photos: Ryan's Grocery

Ryan's Grocery
 – Farm-fresh, allergen-free Australian produce
29 Binjai Park
Opening hours: Daily from 9.30am to 8pm, except Thursdays, from 9.30am to 4pm

Like most parents, Wendy Foo and Sebastian Chia only want the best for their children. Their eldest son, Ryan, nine, is allergic to dairy, gluten, nuts, soy, eggs and yeast. As doting parents, the Chias would fly to Australia every three months to personally source for organic meat and gluten-free produce directly from farms and farmers' markets.

The Chias have a younger son, three, who does not have any food intolerances. "We used to carry back about 20kg of meat for our personal consumption during each trip," says Ms Foo. "It didn't make sense to keep flying to Perth to stock our pantry and fridge, and our friends in Singapore kept asking us to bring more for them."

The couple decided to bring farm produce to Singapore instead, since after numerous trips, they had developed relationships with several small batch specialist producers in Western Australia. It took them two years to get the import licensing required, and to put together a meat-handling facility at the back of the store.

Ms Foo says there are two kinds of shoppers who come to the store. The first are those that come for the organic meats, while the other group comes for the gluten-free products. 

Ryan's Grocery imports grass-fed certified organic Blackwood Valley Beef from Western Australia by the carcass which is then sectioned into specific cuts. Mr Chia says that by importing the whole carcass, the store is able to offer all cuts of meats including brisket and ribs. They also offer organic beef cheek, tongue and oxtail.

Blackwood Valley cattle are raised in a grass-fed, low stress natural herd environment on the farm, free of any artificial growth hormones and antibiotics. Besides beef, the store also recently introduced a range of Arcadian Organic lamb and beef and free-range Borrowdale pork.

Borrowdale Pork from Queensland is hormone- and antibiotic-free, and while Arcadian organic lamb is grass-fed and free-range. Ryan's Grocery is believed to be the first in Singapore to offer organic lamb. In addition to this, Ryan's Grocery offers hormone- and antibiotic-free, free-range chickens. Even the chicken schnitzel, which is made on-site, is packed using gluten-free breadcrumbs.

Each Thursday, a range of gluten-free sausages are made at the store. These sausages, such as the Bush Tomato and Pepper Berry Sausages and the Lemon and Oregano Lamb Sausages are also free of sulphates, nitrates and preservatives.

Their gluten-free sausages contain no sulphates, nitrates or preservatives. 

On the gluten-free product front, Ryan's Grocery has everything from pasta, to biscuits, sauces and condiments. The brands include Doves Farm Brown Rice, Ceres Organic Quinoa and Olive Green Organics Amaranth & Rice and Bodhi's Bakery. Ryan's also carries an exclusive range of items such as gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free nut butters from Health Nut Foods, Colmena Pure Jarrah Honey, cold-pressed, unfiltered Wambyn Organic Olive Oil, and a range of truffle oils, butters, salsas and aioli from Great Southern Truffles.

Ms Foo says it wasn't always easy for them to bring in certain brands and items. "Some producers feel that the Singapore market is too small, hence they didn't want to work with us," she says. But with persistence, such as regular visits to the farms and talking with producers, she has managed to get them onboard. She declares that the products in the store are either organic, preservative or gluten-free.

Besides going to the farmers' markets to see new producers, the couple also regularly attend food expos, such as the Gluten Free and Organic Shows.

"Eating well can be difficult and we faced many challenges when feeding our son. Therefore, we wanted to create an outlet to support our local community of adults and children with food intolerances and dietary challenges," says Ms Foo.

Foodie Market Place is known for its selection of beef, mostly from Australia, US and Japan, and also for its Australian lamb. The meats are airflown into Singapore weekly. Photo: Tay Suan Chiang

Foodie Market Place
 – Imported beef and lamb
225 Outram Road
Opening hours: Tues to Fri, 11am to 8pm; Sat and Sun, 9am to 6pm

For those who are not in the know, shopping at Foodie Market Place can be a little confusing.

Do you head straight to the meats section which is near the entrance, or browse around the store first? The answer is to head to the meats first. Place your order, then browse the store, before collecting your meats and making payment. The store is not big, so this is the best way to ensure a smooth shopping experience, says its founder Don Quah.

Foodie Market Place is known for its selection of beef, mostly from Australia, the United States and Japan, and also for its Australian lamb. Nearly every shopper that we saw at the store was buying its meats.

And there's a reason for it. "Our turnover of meats is good, hence the freshness of our products speak for itself," says Mr Quah. It has been retailing primary cuts such as striploin, ribeye and tenderloins of different grades. The meats are airflown into Singapore weekly.

"In recent years we have been growing our range of bone-in cuts, such as tomahawk and T-bone, as well as secondary cuts including boneless chuck ribs, chuck tender and flank steak. We are looking to introduce 'rump cap' soon," says Mr Quah.

Depending on the cuts, Mr Quah says that his meats can be 50 per cent cheaper than those found in supermarket chains. He takes a smaller margin of profit to keep prices low. "We announce through our Facebook page whenever we have a fresh supply of meats coming in, and customers flock down almost immediately," he says.

The store is tucked away in a corner of Tiong Bahru, but draws a good crowd, regardless of the time of day.

"There's a good expatriate crowd here, and we get local customers as well, some of whom live farther away but still choose to shop here," says Mr Quah. Since Foodie Market Place doesn't sell fresh pork, customers still go to Tiong Bahru Market to get that and also for their fresh vegetables and fruits. It does, however, sell frozen pork products, such as pork belly and pork spare ribs.

"The numerous cooking shows that have sprouted up have meant that customers today have better knowledge of their meats, and they know what they want and the quality that they should be getting," he says.

Besides meats, the store offers frozen foods, such as seafood and chicken, processed meats, cheeses, wines, premixes, spices and coffee. The range is substantial, but within each category, there are limited brands to choose from. Limited shelf space means Mr Quah can only retail certain brands. But what he lacks in quantity, he makes up for in quality.

Having been in the food business for 11 years, previously as a food wholesaler to restaurants and airline catering services, he knows his brands well. For example, Foodie Market Place retails brands such as Beher hams, Butcher's Pride salami, De Cecco pasta, and Giovanna Pavarotti balsamic vinegar. He says that having just a selected few brands on the shelves also means less confusion for consumers.

"I saw an opportunity to do retail, hence Foodie Market Place was started," says Mr Quah, who relies on his past experience dealing with overseas suppliers when procuring items for his store. He notes that since Foodie Market Place opened about four years ago, there have been more butcheries, and smaller grocers popping up.

Mr Quah is too aware of the competition. He plans to have more stores, and is looking at ways to improve operations within the current store to further enhance the shopping experience. "My business has to evolve," he says.


Owner Ms Duriez chooses to ship directly from the producer to her state-of-the-art facilities in Singapore.

Secrets Fine Food
 – Restaurant-quality produce
55 Tiong Bahru Road
Opening hours: Daily from 10am to 7.30pm except Mondays

Psst … Want to know where you can get fine-dining, restaurant-quality produce but at pocket-friendly prices? A cosy shop in Tiong Bahru, called Secrets Fine Foods, is the place to check out. It is founded by French native Stephanie Duriez, who first started on her gourmand adventure in Dubai in 2013.

She now brings Secrets Fine Foods to Singapore, stocking branded items such as baratte butter from French artisan Jean-Yves Bordier, which is usually served at Les Amis. Bordier is the last craftsman who churns his butters manually in a wooden baratte, and also the only one who salts the butter manually, according to a traditional method.

Other highly desirable produce that Ms Duriez brings in include Poilane bread, organic and Bresse chicken from France, dry-aged grass-fed beef from Ireland, burrata from Puglia, and a wide variety of French cheeses, such as Herve Mon cheeses which are served at Odette, foie gras and wines.

The shelves are well-stocked with jams, olive oils, truffle honeys and teas. Ms Duriez says she has a "lifelong enchantment with all things delectable, and also a very high regard for the healthy aspects of food. Finding tasty and healthy products is my daily challenge".

She personally meets her suppliers, and the products she carries are all the work of artisans. Rather than go through a middleman, Ms Duriez chooses to ship directly from the producer to her state-of-the-art facilities in Singapore and every item is guaranteed by its traceability record. This also helps keep prices low. For example, a 125g block of Bordier butter with seaweed costs S$8.50, while a 1.5kg Bresse chicken retails for S$75, which makes eating well an almost everyday affair.

Secrets Fine Food is definitely a must-visit for foodies, and for those who don't cook, a visit here may just inspire them to step into the kitchen.

This article first appeared in The Business Times