Singaporeans buying less Thai rice
By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times/Asia News NetworkSingapore consumers are losing their loyalty to Thai rice, with more of them acquiring a taste for cheaper grains from Myanmar and Vietnam.
January 15, 2013, 12:13 am TWN
Figures from the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) show that from January to November last year, only 115,504 tons of Thai rice were consumed here. They made up 35.4 percent of total imports.
Major rice importers said Thai rice imports are likely to be at their lowest-ever level.
In the whole of 2011, Thai rice consumed here accounted for 50.6 percent of total imports, which was down from 52.8 percent in 2010 and 62.1 percent in 2009.
However, imports of rice from countries like India, Vietnam and Myanmar have grown by as much as ninefold since 2004.
The trend, said Andrew Tan, 33, chairman of the Singapore General Rice Importers Association, started in 2008 when global rice prices surged.
Then, flooding in Thailand — the world's top exporter — led to a shortage. Producing nations also curbed exports to ensure adequate domestic supply.
“When prices rose, importers here started to look for cheaper substitutes,” said Tan.
Topseller, which sells to thousands of hawker stalls and restaurants in Singapore, said 20 percent of its rice imports are now from Vietnam, up from 5 percent in 2008.
It also recently started shipping in rice from Cambodia.
Vice President Danny Tang, 40, noted that almost all the hawker-center stalls it caters to have switched to Vietnamese rice.
He said a Thai government scheme, introduced in 2011, to buy rice from small-scale farmers at prices 50 percent above market rates, has kept prices of Thai rice high.
Retailers said consumer demand dictates what they stock. At NTUC FairPrice, Thai rice has fallen in favour, making up about 70 percent of the rice it sells, down from
95 percent in 2007.
“We noticed that consumers are becoming more open to trying rice from new sources and more are switching to these alternative sources,” said Tng Ah Yiam, FairPrice's managing director of group purchasing, merchandising and international trade.
A bag of FairPrice Gold Thai Hom Mali Superior Fragrant Rice costs SG$24.80 for a 10kg bag. A 10kg bag of the similar grade FairPrice Vietnamese Jasmine fragrant rice costs SG$15.50.
Last year, the supermarket chain, also a major rice importer, started offering Taiwanese rice.
At Sheng Siong, 70 percent of its housebrand rice is Thai, down from 100 percent five years ago.
Housewife Jenny Koh, 53, a mother of three, switched to Vietnamese rice three months ago.
She says the grain is cheaper and took some getting used to. “It's a bit harder and less sweet. But I prefer to spend less on rice and more on meat,” she said.