Saturday, August 30, 2008


A couple of days ago, I took the day off to run some errands and to visit the bookstore (Borders at Wheelock Place). I also took some time out to visit a place I've been meaning to visit for a while now.

The local organic grocer Supernature.

Now, I've blogged about my thoughts on Supernature and other upscale organic food purveyors in Singapore before, and I wanted to see with my own eyes what they are like.

[I'm also in the process of running an ongoing organic 'price check' to find out which organic grocer in Singapore offers the 'best value', value that's not necessarily measured in dollars and cents. More in a future post.]

Supernature is located in a rather obscure location for a grocer.

It sits on the ground floor of Park House, an oldish private condo in one of the toniest parts of town, at the intersection of Orchard Boulevard and Tomlinson Road. The closest MRT station is Orchard, and it's quite a walk. The closest bus stops are at Camden Medical Center, about a 5 minute walk away.

At first blush, you would think it odd that a grocer would locate themselves at such an obscure location. But when you actually step into the shop, you'll realize why.

As far as organic grocers in Singapore go, Supernature carries a wide selection of goods, better than some I've seen. But the prices are nothing short of breathtaking. If Whole Foods Market has been derisively called Whole Paycheck, then Supernature should be called Supernaturally Expensive.

You have leafy veggies at about $11 a bunch, sealed packets of ~80 grams of handpicked dried blueberries at $14, organic wholewheat spelt flour at about $10 a kilogram, lots of packaged sauces and seasonings at similarly high get the idea.

No wonder Supernature locates itself in a condo in the upscale Orchard area, because that's where its target clientele resides. While I browsed the shelves, expatriate couples speaking in foreign languages were busy consulting each other on the labels stuck onto the products.

Despite all the rhetoric on its website about "real" food, and "real" living, Supernature is most definitely not about "real" people. Not unless you're making money hand over fist and can afford to shell out.

In addition, there is the issue of the ethos of the organic movement. Going organic may conjure up those warm and fuzzy feelings of saving the planet, but if you're inclined to shop at a place like Supernature for that reason, think again.

Going organic is probably healthier for you no matter where you shop, but if part of why you want to go organic is for the good of the earth, then you should pay attention to the provenance of your food. Veggies that are lovingly cultivated organically, but are airflown from Japan to Singapore in chilled cargo holds, probably don't represent the best use of carbon-based fossil fuels. The same goes for washed and cut salads from Earthbound in California, or imported handpicked blueberries from Virginia. 

And please don't fall for the fiction of "helping small farmers" by going organic. With so many layers from field to storefront, chances are good that most of what you pay at an upscale distributor like Supernature go to rent (remember, it's located in Orchard), transportation costs, middle-men, and a hefty markup to the owner of Supernature (and the Como Group). God knows how much of the premium that Supernature customers pay end up in the small farmer's pocket. And this is if Supernature sources its products from small farms and not large corporate organic growers such as Earthbound.

I think there are better local alternatives out there, but I'm still in the process of checking them out in my organic 'price check'.

Of course, when all is said and done, customers are still free to purchase from grocers such as Supernature, and feel healthy and virtuous doing so. Certainly, the products on sale there do look wonderful, and if you can afford it, no one's stopping you. Just don't think that you're doing the earth a favor. 

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