I went down to Naturally Marketplace at Vivo City today with a somewhat negative state of mind, hoping to “catch” them selling some unnatural junk with trans fats, MSG, aspartame and other poisons.
As it turned out, they were playing my favourite music (Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, including Tell Me on a Sunday which I had not heard in a long time) when I was there. My mind was thus restored to a more positive frame such that even though I did find some junk that should not belong in a store that calls itself “naturally”, I left with an overall positive impression of the place.
I was initially negative because, some weeks back, my friend in Hong Kong told me about a supposedly organic supermarket there, set up by the Dairy Farm group (which owns Cold Storage, Giant, etc), selling organic and regular items all mixed together and leaving a consumers with confused impression. I figured that Naturally Marketplace, also owned by Dairy Farm, would be the same thing repeated here.
Then when I mentioned Naturally Marketplace in my post about Zenxin organic vegetables, Saltwetfish made a similar comment:
it also sells other stuff, which I don’t consider organic.
So I decided to check it out for myself…
True enough, the entrance was the vegetables / fruits section and most of the stuffs there did not carry any ‘organic’ label. I was disappointed. My HK friend and saltwetfish were right after all.
But when I wandered further in, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the place did actually carry quite a wide range of natural and organic foods.
One brand that stood out was Waitrose, the house brand of a UK supermarket chain. Waitrose products had been on sale at Cold Storage and The Marketplace outlets for some time already and I found some of their items (particularly the organic canned tomatoes) to be very reasonably priced.
Now, at Naturally Marketplace, the range of Waitrose products seem to be very much wider.
Then I saw another familiar name – Wild Oats, a major US chain of natural and organic foods supermarket. I had shopped at Wild Oats every time I visited the US in recent years (mid-90s to 2001) and I know their quality is good — although the prices are somewhat high. It was good to see Wild Oats finally making its way here.
Then there is O’ Organics, which is described as the brand started by a US supermarket chain called Safeway. I always thought Safeway was British? Maybe they also have a US version.
I remember O’ Organics because some months back, I wanted to buy their organic coffee at Carrefour, drawn by the very attractive packaging. At that time, for some reason Carrefour did not have a price on it (not even when the cashier scanned the bar code) so I ended up buying another brand of organic coffee, for $8+
Well, I saw today that the O’ Organics coffee costs $24+. Sorry I am not that great a fan of coffee.
I noticed also that Heinz now has a range of organic foods as well. Never knew that.
And so on. There is organic cheese, organic wine…. actually a very wide selection of organic and natural foods there.
One more I like to mention is Rice Dream ice cream, made from brown rice! It is yummily delicious. To me, it is far better than all other non-dairy (eg soy) ice cream that I ever tried, and better than most brands of real, milk-based ice cream as well.
The first time I ate Rice Dream ice cream was when I went to the Macrobiotic Summer Conference in the US in 1993. Shortly after that, Jason’s supermarket sold it for a while and then apparently stopped. And it was only recently (maybe a year back?) that The Marketplace and Cold Storage started selling it again. Go try it.
But yes, Naturally Marketplace has its fair share of junk sandwiched among the goodies, such as:
- Kellogg Special K cereals which states, clearly on the label, naturally and artificially flavored
- Kraft Macaroni and cheese, which contains artificial flavours as well as Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. Always be careful when you see numbers like these. Yellow 5 is Tartrazine, an artificial yellow colouring that is banned in Norway and previously banned in Austria and Germany. Yellow 6 is also known as Sunset Yellow. Both substances are known to cause allergic reactions and food intolerances. I will talk a bit more about them later.
- Singapore’s own Prima Taste spice mixes, which contain MSG
- SIS (Sugar Insutries of Singapore) white sugar which describes itself as ‘100% natural’
- Ricola “just natural” sweets made with aspartame
- etc etc.
Yes, there are trans fats at Naturally Marketplace too, including various brands of margarine, plus vegetable shortening that claims to “bake like butter but at half the price”.
The shortenings, especially, have very high trans fat content averaging 25 percent, ie 2.5 grams trans fat per 10 gram serving. And here, you will see how these same products can also qualify as “0 g trans fat”.
There is one brand of margarine called “I can’t believe it’s not butter” and the regular version has about 25 percent trans fat. But there is also a spray version, which you are supposed to spray onto your food. This version has “0 gram” trans fat because… well, because each serving size is only 1.25 sprays, amounting to 0.25 grams.
At such tiny serving sizes, of course the amount of trans fat is “0”. In fact, the amount of anything else is also close to 0. That tiny bottle is supposed to contain 904 servings!
Then there are the instant noodles. I discovered today that Maggi now also has a “No added MSG” version. All along I thought Koka was the only one. But Naturally Marketplace also sell other MSG-laden brands, like Nissin and Korean noodles.
Just to be sure, I picked up a Nissin cup noodles to read the ingredients list and what I saw was most interesting. It did not mention MSG but “flavour enhancer” followed by three different numbers. One of them, I am sure, refers to MSG. But what are the other two?
Even more intriguing was this item I founded listed on the Nissin Seafood cup noodles: CALM POWDER.
Now what is that? Hope it is not something that would make the blood of food purists boil!
Overall, I would estimate that about 70 percent of the stuffs at Naturally Marketplace are, in fact, natural or organic. Which is not bad. But why can’t they go 100 percent?
After all, the range is sufficiently wide such that even if the 30 percent or so of “offending” foods are removed, the place will still be very well stocked.
Does Naturally Marketplace need to sell junk in order to remain in business?
But I noticed that Naturally Marketplace does not describe itself as an organic and natural foods supermarket. It was a Sunday Times report that gave it this tag.
At the entrance of Naturally Marketplace, the supermarket describes itself as merely “brimming with freshness, organics and indulgences”.
This sounds so Singaporeanly kiasu – everything also want!