Cai png, or mixed vegetable rice, is a fare consisting of various vegetables and meat dishes served on rice that can be commonly found in eating establishments around Singapore.
The popularity of cai png can be attributed partly due to the increasing demands from work and family commitments, especially amongst the younger generation, where it automatically becomes the go-to meal for many.
Instead of walking around the entire hawker centre spending precious time on the ultimate decision of deciding what to eat, the safest bet is to always go for the cai png stall.
Moreover, during difficult times like the current Covid-19 pandemic or financial crisis where income is uncertain and consumers tighten their wallets, customers prefer cuisines like cai png which are more affordable for their typical meals.
The attractiveness of cai png stalls are that they are so ubiquitous and easy to find, and cater to all kinds of tastes and preferences since there are multiple dishes one can pick from.
For customers who are more health-conscious, some cai png stalls offer healthier options such as brown rice, porridge, herbal soup, and dishes with less salt and oil dishes.
While cai png stalls provide fuss-free and affordable dishes to a broad consumer base, there is a threat that fewer people will continue this fare due to it being perceived as a manually-intensive, low paying job requiring long hours.
One of the newest entrants in the cai png business
Introducing S&M Pacific Cuisine Pte Ltd, a new kid on the block in the cai png business. It was founded in 2018 by a group of cai png lovers and business partners who have more than 20 years of experiences in the F&B industry, specialising in the cai png category.
This young company aims to sell a wide variety of affordable and economical cai png dishes to consumers dining at coffee shops located near residential as well as industrial areas.
To date, S&M Pacific Cuisine already has about 20 cai png stalls island-wide in just over two years. Some of their signature dishes include sweet and sour pork, braised pork’s trotters, and curry vegetables.
“We understand that our regular customers do not have much time to cook a proper meal for their family after a hard and stressful workday. We therefore offer a wide selection of dishes at an affordable price to cater to their needs, without compromising the quality and the original cai png taste,” Mr Michael Leng, a spokesperson from S&M Pacific Cuisine, said.
S&M Pacific Cuisine does not operate a central kitchen where the dishes are prepared centrally and then distributed to all the other cai png outlets. “All our stalls are managed independently and each stall is managed by a stall supervisor. It is the responsibility of the stall’s supervisor to plan and change the menu on quarterly basis. This strategy is to provide different selection of our cai png to our customers,” Mr Leng explained.
Challenges of running a cai png stall in Singapore
Like many other F&B establishments, the main challenge that the company faces is the shortage of manpower. Not many Singaporeans want to join the cai png business due to the long hours, i.e. 6 days per week and about 10 hours per workday.
During the Covid-19 Circuit Breaker, S&M Pacific Cuisine’s stalls located in industrial and office areas were badly affected by the Circuit Breaker measures.
In comparison, stalls located at residential coffeeshops were mildly affected as most Singaporeans were staying or working from home. Due to the Circuit Breaker, Mr Leng estimates the company’s revenue was impacted by at least 60%.
Furthermore, S&M Pacific Cuisine could not pivot towards a delivery model. Mr Leng shared, “Our cai png is not suitable for delivery option as it will affect the taste of our food. As our company is still new, we can only status-quo (dine-in or takeaway) at the moment.”.
Investing in productivity to keep the business sustainable
To continue serving affordable cai png to the masses sustainably, S&M Pacific Cuisine explored various strategies to raise productivity and training its staff to be ready for Industry 4.0 by working with partners such as NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to tap on grants.
As the company hires many mature workers, one area it wanted to improve was its food preparation process. In the past, food was prepared manually and staff had to rely on their memory to remember the cooking duration for the different dishes. Moreover, the temperature control of food was also based on the experiences of these mature staff.
S&M Pacific Cuisine purchased automatic energy saving commercial kitchen cookers and an automatic commercial induction cooker, whereby the desired temperature and cooking duration or time could be pre-set, without any constant monitoring from the staff.
Staff do not need to manually light the gas stove as this is automated, hence this equipment makes their work safer. In addition, the special design of the cookers contains the heat within the realm of the stove, keeping the whole environment cooler and more comfortable for staff.
The automatic cookers will switch off by themselves without any external intervention by the staff once the optimal cooking duration is reached. Besides preventing over-cooking of food, it also frees up time for the staff to perform other higher value tasks instead of constantly watching over the fire.
“As this is the first time we are working with e2i, we are quite satisfied with the overall experience and we definitely look forward to a greater partnership with e2i in the near future,” Mr Leng said, satisfied with the support and consultation that e2i has provided since the beginning of the partnership.
With higher productivity alleviating some manpower concerns, S&M Pacific Cuisine is hoping to explore and venture into “ready-to-eat” food to value-add to the existing cai png business, and keeping this tradition alive and kicking for the next generation.
Special thanks to S&M Pacific Cuisine for the information.