Healthier Chinese New Year treats see rise in demand

Consumers and businesses are jumping on the “healthier” bandwagon amid a national “war on diabetes”. (Photo: Getty Images)

By Ben Nadarajan, Contributor

It is the time of year both diabetics and dieters fear the most, a sugar- and calorie-laden fiesta filled with irresistible treats.

It makes for a worrying time for secretary Chan Choon Wah, 42, who has a history of diabetes on both sides of her family.

“When I see my children eating one pineapple tart after another, I can’t help but worry,” she said.

Concerned consumers have driven the rise of festive offerings that claim to be “diabetes-friendly” or better for the health, with shops and home-bakers jumping onto the “healthier” bandwagon.

Among them is Delcie’s Desserts and Cakes, which offers low-sugar alternatives to treats like pineapple tarts and almond cookies, as well as vegan, eggless and gluten-free options. It has an online store and a shop in Whampoa.

According to owner Delcie Lam, its pineapple tarts and cookies are made with more than 20 per cent less sugar and are eggless, which means they contain less cholesterol. A Delcie pineapple tart contains 65 calories and 2g of sugar, compared to over 90 calories and 6g of sugar in more traditionally made tarts.

She has noted an increase in orders over the last two years – coinciding with Singapore’s public sector-led “war on diabetes”.

One in nine Singaporean adults is diabetic, putting the city-state just behind the United States when it comes to the prevalence of the illness in developed countries. Another 12 to 15 per cent suffer from “pre-diabetes”.

When Lam started out about 10 years ago, many customers “found it hard to accept that we use so little sugar,” she said.

“But as Singaporeans become more health-savvy these days, there has been an increase in demand in our products,” she added.

Delcie’s was the first bakery to receive the Healthier Bakery Award from the Health Promotion Board in 2011.

Demand is also heating up for the home-bakers at Sistersfield, who also have a pop-up store at ION Orchard during the festive period. One of its founders Teresa Quek says it uses up to 40 per cent less sugar in its products.

She says most Singaporeans are still “more price-sensitive than health-sensitive” when it comes to CNY goodies, unless someone they know is diabetic. “(But) there’s definitely more awareness about healthier choices now compared to when we started four years ago,” she said.

Sistersfield’s nine CNY offerings, which include pineapple tarts and cookies, use natural sweeteners. Its Chrysanthemum Honey cookies, for example, uses honey instead of sugar.

Demand is also up for their egg-free and gluten-free products, Quek said.

At the top of bakeries’ list of concerns is if their tarts and cookies will pass the flavour test, said a spokesperson from Yang Yang Cookies, a pop-up store at Takashimaya that dropped the sugar content in its green pea cookies by a third this year.

Other companies also tout treats that are organic, free from artificial sweeteners, colours, preservatives, corn syrup and trans fat.

Even traditional treats like bak kwa have been given a healthy twist.

Organic and health foods store SuperNature tied up with Kim Joo Guan for a free-range BBQ sliced pork made with pork from Western Australia’s Linley Valley Farm pigs, which is chargrilled without oil.

While this healthier choice comes at a price – it costs $88 per kg compared to the usual $50 to $60 per kg during the CNY period – stocks were completely sold out by last Thursday (8 Feb). In previous years, there had always been some left for last-minute shoppers.

“There’s definitely a following for our store’s special and healthier bak kwa and it’s great to see it growing every year,” said SuperNature’s spokesperson.

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