By Jalelah Abu Baker
SINGAPORE - Supermarket chains in Singapore are promoting wholegrain rice options like brown and red varieties to encourage their customers to eat healthier.
NTUC FairPrice yesterday (June 8) said it is giving a 5 per cent discount on its house brand wholegrain rice items for three months. It will also give a 5 per cent discount on all "healthier choice" products for two weeks.
Its wholegrain rice sales in the first quarter of this year rose 30 per cent on the same period last year, and the price discount is expected to save customers a total of about S$500,000 (US$369,053).
The chain's chairman, Bobby Chin, said: "By promoting wholegrain rice as a healthier alternative, we are taking a proactive approach in the prevention and management of chronic diseases like diabetes."
He said studies show Singapore has the second-highest proportion of diabetics among developed nations, after the United States.
Other supermarket chains such as Cold Storage and Sheng Siong have similar plans.
The focus on the Asian staple comes after The Straits Times reported that white rice is the Health Promotion Board's main concern in fighting diabetes.
Nutritionist Christine Rubi-Cruz, who works with the merchandising team at Cold Storage, said the chain stocks about 20 brands of wholegrain rice. There have been discounts from 10 to 15 per cent on these rice items for the past month.
"We are bringing in another type of wholegrain rice called sprouted rice. It has the same benefits, but is also easier to digest," she said.
Rubi-Cruz added that there has been a 10 per cent fall in sales of white rice, and 15 per cent increase in wholegrain sales in the past three years.
Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, a nutritionist on the council of the Diabetic Society of Singapore, said wholegrain rice varieties are healthier because they release sugar slowly into the blood. "It contains lots of fibre and nutrients, but even then, portion control is important," she said.
A Sheng Siong spokesman said that from next month to October, its stores will have dedicated space for items with the "healthier choice" symbol.
The chain is also distributing a "nutrition toolkit" to seniors later this month. This includes a nutrition guide, poster and recipe book, available in four languages.
Wholegrain rice generally costs more than white rice. A 5kg packet of white rice costs about S$5, while a 2.5kg packet of red rice can cost around S$6.
Dr Kalpana said: "For people to be more receptive to wholegrain rice, retail outlets can sell it at a price that's comparable to white rice. If a family of five or six take wholegrain rice, it can be expensive."
(US$1 = S$1.35)