SINGAPORE: Ever wondered how the egg in the ramen you’re slurping down has a soft texture, and with a runny yolk consistency? If you think it’s all down to the chef’s expertise, think again.
Local egg farm N&N Agriculture has been a strong proponent of using technology to create new ways of running a traditional industry like egg farming, and coming up with new products along the way. This can be seen in its commitment to splash out S$13 million to install a pasteurisation facility at its 13-ha farm.
Its eggs, sold under the Egg Story brand, go through a patented pasteurisation process developed by a US company called National Pasteurized Eggs. Essentially, they will be submerged in a warm water bath and the temperature and length of time used effectively destroys Salmonella and bird flu that may exist inside and outside the egg – but not cooking it, CEO Ma Chin Chew explained when Channel NewsAsia visited the farm recently.
By contrast, most eggs sold at supermarkets are not pasteurised, he added.
The CEO shared that he, and the two other local players Chew’s Group and Seng Choon Farm, were first introduced to the technology by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA). He subsequently made another four trips to the US to see how the system works before committing to the investment.
“At that time, I didn’t know if the (Singapore) market could and would support the (pasteurisation) technology,” he admitted.
But his desire to create safe and quality eggs meant he was the only one who took the plunge and, since then, the modern farmer has been hard at work reinventing the way egg farming is done and developing new products to bring to the market.
NOT YOKED TO THE OLD
One of these is its pasteurised soft yolk egg, also known as Hanjuku eggs, commonly seen in Japanese ramen dishes.
These eggs are first cracked open slightly at the top, before being placed on a conveyor belt that carries them into a vat of boiling water at 97 degrees Celsius. After being boiled for some time, they are quickly dropped into a pool of cold water, allowing heat to quickly dissipate – resulting in a firm egg white but runny yolks within, Mr Ma said during the tour of his farm.
These Hanjuku eggs are then de-shelled, before being conveyed to another point where a worker checks on their quality before packing and sealing them in air-tight packs in two variants: One soaked in sauce, and the other not.
“If there are any that have cracked open during the sealing process, we will have to unseal and remove the split egg, before re-packing again,” the CEO pointed out, noting the stringent level of quality control involved given the fragile nature of these eggs.
To date, Japanese food and beverage (F&B) outlets such as RamenPlay and Ramen Keisuke are those that use these Hanjuku eggs in their dishes, the company said.
And it’s not just F&B outlets that are attracted to N&N’s Hanjuku eggs. Convenience store giant 7-Eleven Singapore also introduced a ready-to-eat product, called Hanjuku Eggs, at its stores since 2014. This is through a partnership with the egg farm, N&N said.
Another product is the tamagoyaki – Japanese rolled omelette – which is commonly found atop sushi rolls.
Using its pasteurised eggs and processes, the tamagoyaki is prepared and sealed before being sold chilled through its sister company, Tamago-Ya by Food10. This sister company is positioned to target Japanese consumers in Singapore, as such the marketing and food packaging are predominantly in Japanese, N&N’s marketing manager Chan Yuey Sum told Channel NewsAsia.
Asked how has the introduction of Hanjuku eggs, tamagoyaki and other pasteurised egg products benefited the business, Mr Ma said: “In 2010, my sales was S$12 million, and in 2016, it doubled to S$24 million, so you can see the impact.”
He added that the diversification of its business to such arenas was a necessary step, not just to differentiate itself from local producers, but also to move away from the cut-throat competition put up by importers from Malaysia and Thailand.
“The egg business is quite tough,” Mr Ma acknowledged, “and when the ringgit depreciated (last year), that was a nightmare” as eggs from across the Causeway became even cheaper.
This challenging climate, he said, is why N&N Agriculture is now aiming for the higher-end segment, as well as complementary products through its pasteurisation capability.
EGG FARMERS GIVEN A FAIR CRACK?
The CEO added that when the hefty investment was made, he didn’t know if the land lease for the farm would be renewed. It was a cloud over his head, so much so that in a previous interview he said he was reluctant to sell the idea of his children taking over the farm.
However, this cloud has lifted somewhat after the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) recently informed him that they will renew the lease for another 20 years, although he has yet to receive the official paperwork.
Mr Ma sounded a note of caution, saying the new contract will come with “new terms”, and possibly a hike in lease premium. As it is, the egg farm is currently paying a “pricey” annual land lease, and any increase will add more pressure on the company’s bottomline.
Amid such uncertainty, the CEO remained stoic. He said that before SLA’s letter, he “did not give much thought” to the expiry of land lease issue, and he was alright with the idea of giving up his farm – and all that he invested.
“At least I tried (it my way),” Mr Ma said.