Singapore

Nutrition label for drinks: Sellers say 'nearly impossible' for them to measure sugar, fat levels


SINGAPORE – Drink stall owners and a coffee shop association welcome the move requiring drinks to be labelled with a Nutri-Grade mark by the end of next year, but are unsure how the nutrition content will be measured.

On Thursday (Aug 11), Health Minister Ong Ye Kung announced that outlets selling freshly prepared drinks with a very high level of sugar and saturated fat content must label them with a Nutri-Grade mark in their menus by the end of next year.

Such beverages include freshly brewed coffee, freshly squeezed juices and bubble tea.

The coffee shop association and drink sellers told The Straits Times on Friday that more customers are asking for healthier options for their coffee fix in recent years.

Mr Hong Poh Hin, chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association, which represents more than 400 coffee shops, said up to 70 per cent of consumers ask for lower-sugar or even no-sugar options for their coffee.

But the association is unsure how the nutrition content of the drinks can be determined, said Mr Hong, adding that he hopes the Government can provide more help and clarity.

He noted that each cup of coffee or tea may have different amounts of sugar added as they are freshly brewed and prepared.

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“How do you bring a sample (to a lab) for testing? It’s a bit difficult,” said Mr Hong.

He suggested that coffee stall owners not add any sugar in their coffee by default.

“Consumers can decide how much sugar they want and add it themselves,” he added.

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At Bukit Timah Market and Food Centre, a fruit juice stall owner who wants to be known as Mr Yao is also uncertain how the amount of sugar will be measured.

The 29-year-old’s stall offers a menu of about 30 kinds of fruit, such as apple, banana and honeydew. Customers can combine different types of fruit in their drink.

“I think it’s nearly impossible for us because we have so many mixtures. Can you imagine if I have to count (the sugar content) of 20 per cent apple, 20 per cent orange. How am I going to do it?” said Mr Yao.

“We’re unlike a bubble tea shop, where there is a definite recipe to follow, so they know (the sugar content) immediately.”

But some coffee drink sellers said they support the new requirements as many of their customers are already switching to healthier drink choices.

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Mr Sow Tek Siong, who owns Tek Siong Drinks Stall at 84 Marine Parade Central Market and Food Centre, said that over the past three years, half of his customers have been requesting sugarless coffee and tea.

“Many customers said they prefer drinking their coffee and tea with no or less sugar as they find them healthier,” said the 51-year-old, who has been running the drink stall for 15 years.

At the same food centre, Coffee Queen co-owner Angie Nguyen said 60 per cent to 70 per cent of her customers ask for less sugar in their coffee or tea.

“Many people now want to stay healthy and are choosing the healthier choice,” said the 33-year-old.

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Consumers also welcomed the Nutri-Grade label requirement as they said it would help them choose a healthier drink.

Pre-school educator Joen Ong, 29, who drinks bubble tea twice a week, said she already orders drinks without milk, and opts for a sugar level of 50 per cent.

Ms Ong said the new labelling scheme will make a bigger difference in her choices.

“I have a sugar addiction that’s hard to stop, but with the information on sugar content, I am more likely to make healthier choices.”

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.



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