NTUC responded on ST Forum page yesterday (6 Oct), with regard to the recent controversy on its impending acquisition of Kopitiam Group. Ms Shona Tan, the Chief Brand & Communications Officer of NTUC Enterprise Cooperative, wrote on behalf of NTUC.
In her letter to ST Forum, Ms Tan said that NTUC Enterprise and its social enterprises aim to ensure that everybody has access to affordable, quality goods and services.
"This intended (Kopitiam Group) acquisition will allow us to do this (access to affordable, quality goods and services) by expanding our social footprint," she wrote.
"Current plans include increasing the number of Rice Garden stalls islandwide where meals can cost as low as $1.50. This would allow us to reach out to more people."
She described Rice Garden as a "social outreach programme" of NTUC Foodfare, which provides affordable as well as nutritious meals at hawker centres and coffee shops.
She did not say what will happen to stall rentals after the acquisition but only that if the acquisition materializes, NTUC hopes to "leverage each other's strengths and, with the greater synergy, hope to provide better experiences for our stall operators, customers and employees".
She also did not give further details with regard to NTUC's lowly-priced $1.50 meals in her reply to ST Forum.
But she promised, "NTUC Enterprise is committed to do good and improve the lives of families in Singapore."
Netizens incredulous over NTUC's $1.50 meals
Understandably, many netizens were incredulous over the NTUC's $1.50 meals mentioned by Ms Tan on the ST Forum page:
NTUC's $1.50 meals not for everyone
In any case, online checks revealed that the $1.50 meals mentioned by Ms Tan are not for everyone.
According to the NTUC Foodfare website, its "Rice Garden" initiative is a social outreach programme started in 2009 to "provide highly affordable nutritious meals starting from as low as $1.50 to be enjoyed by our community – everyday".
It said, "We were concerned about the impact of rising food prices on consumers especially the elderly and low income groups. As a social enterprise, we wanted to take the lead and create an alternative to help Singaporeans stretch their dollar."
"Our chefs are inspired to create an authentic, hearty local menu providing value and dollar savings in every plate!" it added.
It turns out that NTUC's $1.50 "2 Veg + 1 Meat" meals are only meant for individuals who are ComCare or NTUC Foodfare Privilege cardholders. In other words, the specially priced meals are only for needy Singaporeans and according to ComCare criteria, only individuals with a per capita monthly household income of $650 can qualify.
Also, not all outlets serve the $1.50 meals. The fine prints at the end of the web page mentioned some of the outlets would sell for $2 instead of $1.50, for these needy Singaporeans. This meant that the $1.50 meal did not cover "islandwide", as what Ms Tan had described.
Furthermore, the vegetable and meat selections are "based on selected dishes only" and the needy Singaporeans can't choose what they want. Each needy Singaporean is only entitled to one purchase per order.
Under the "Rice Garden" initiative, NTUC Foodfare also offers concessionary prices for senior citizens, students, full-time NSFs and NTUC union members. These people would pay $2 or $2.50 for a "2 Veg + 1 Meat" meal, depending on the outlets. And again, the specially-priced meals are "based on selected dishes only".
So, what about the general public?
"We serve a selection of affordable meals at $2.70* for the general public," NTUC Foodfare website said.
The "*" refers to some of the Foodfare outlets may be selling the meals at $3 to the general public instead.
To recap, this is the sequence of events involving the recent controversy on NTUC's impending acquisition of Kopitiam Group:
- NTUC announced acquisition of Kopitiam Group
- Members of public wrote to ST Forum highlighting concerns of higher hawker food prices after the acquisition
- NTUC wrote back to say it provides affordable meals that "can cost as low as $1.50"
It turns out that this "as low as $1.50" meals are only meant for needy Singaporeans, with many strings attached.
There is an old saying - when if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Or to put it in another way, if one wants to "enjoy" NTUC's $1.50 meals, make sure you are on ComCare.