Healthier food costs more because slow demand leads to inadequate economies of scale: Chee Hong Tat

Healthier food costs more because slow demand leads to inadequate economies of scale: Chee Hong Tat

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File photo of a shopper at a Singapore supermarket. (Photo: MCI)

SINGAPORE: Healthier food choices might cost more than their average counterparts because initial demand for them is slow, Senior Minister of State (SMS) for Health Chee Hong Tat said in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 3).

Mr Chee was responding to Member of Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Chong Kee Hiong, who asked why healthier foods tend to be more expensive than less healthy options.

"During the initial phase when the healthier products are being introduced, they will have to go through this phase where consumers are getting used to it and the demand is not quite picking up," he said.

"So when you produce it and there's inadequate economies of scale, the merchant finds it difficult to price it at a very competitive level."

Mr Chee said he saw a similar pattern in healthier cooking oils and wholemeal bread.

"This is a general observation we see for different types of food products," he said. "So during this period, the lack of scale then leads to prices being higher on a per unit basis."

However, Mr Chee said prices would go down when demand and supply start to pick up.

"With scale, the merchants are then able to lower their per unit cost and this can then be passed through to consumers in terms of lower prices," he said.

As an example, Mr Chee pointed to NTUC Foodfare, which sells its pre-packaged drinks with the Healthier Choice Symbol for 10 cents cheaper.

The Health Promotion Board has also come up with lower-cost healthier recipes that it shares with the public through partners like the Diabetic Society of Singapore, he said.

"There is a range of different healthier products including house brands that are offered by supermarkets that need not cost a lot more and sometimes can be very competitive compared to the other brands that are available in the market," he added.


As for his question on the price disparity, Mr Chong clarified that he was referring to two variations of the same brand of kaya. The low sugar option costs S$1 more, he said.

"I do not know which brand of kaya he’s referring to," Mr Chee said, to laughter in the chamber. "I myself like kaya, but because it is quite sweet, I try not to eat too much of it."

Moving away from prices, Mr Chee said other ways of eating healthy include consuming in moderation and paying more attention to how food is prepared.

"When we spread the kaya on the bread, don’t spread it so thickly," he said. "That will be one way of helping to lower the amount of sugar you consume."

Commenting on preparation, he added: "If you steam it compared to deep frying it; if you use less oil, salt, sugar and sauces. All these are steps which we can then (take) to prepare healthier food options."

When Mr Chee was done listing his measures, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin rounded off the question on a lighthearted note, to more laughter from the Members.

"Given the SMS' passion for healthy food, the least we could do is to take heed of his advice during the tea break later," he quipped.

Source: CNA/hz