Feb 2, 2011
Licensed to bake
Five home bakers get NEA stamp of approval for CNY sales
Home bakers (from left) Charmaine Tan, 31; Sophia Loy, 40; Nur Atika, 23; Fiona Lee, 23; and Delcie Lam, 26; have been licensed to work out of a kitchen at North Bridge Road and market their wares under the brand Whisk and Fold this Chinese New Year. -- ST PHOTO: NURIA LING
TO MAKE sure they were ready for Chinese New Year, five home bakers rented a kitchen space, renovated it, applied for a licence and marketed their wares online.
The reason: They knew about the National Environment Agency's (NEA) rules for home bakers and wanted to make sure their business was legal.
'We knew that we were not allowed to sell goods baked at home to the public, and I couldn't afford the rent alone,' said Miss Delcie Lam, 26, who started actively marketing her pineapple tarts and almond and green tea cookies last month. 'We wanted to be ready for Chinese New Year, when there would be enough demand for mass production.'
The team, which bakes in a kitchen at North Bridge Road and markets its products under the brand Whisk and Fold, has sold more than 450 tubs of pineapple tarts, green tea cookies, almond cookies and brownies for Chinese New Year this year. Prices range from $22 to $28.80 a tub.
Others are also doing a roaring trade but are selling cookies baked out of their kitchens at home, which is illegal.
Under the law, no one is allowed to sell food to the public without a licence, said an agency spokesman in a statement yesterday. 'NEA requires a person's premises to meet hygiene requirements and his food handlers trained before a licence is issued to him to sell food to the public. The law is implemented and enforced to protect public health,' he said, adding that such businesses can operate only from premises that have planning approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority for use as a food shop.
NEA first issues a warning to those who break the law to stop selling immediately. Failure to comply can lead to a fine of up to $4,000. Last year, enforcement action was taken against six people. There have been no such cases so far this year.
Members of the public can call the NEA hotline on 1800-225-5632 if they find blogs or websites advertising homemade confectionery for sale.
Still, none of this has dampened sales pitches online. Free advertising websites, such as classified ad site 88DB.com, still carry hundreds of ads by home bakers publicising their wares. Others hawk their goods on personal blogs or on social networking site Facebook.
A Straits Times check with 15 such home bakers found that 12 were selling online though they knew it was not allowed.
A home baker, who wants to be known only as Miss Lee, started selling cakes in May last year on her blog. The stay-at-home mother earns about $2,000 a month from such sales. The 35-year-old started by selling to friends, and now sells mainly to the public. 'To have a commercial kitchen, you need money and time. I don't have the money, and I want to be there for my son,' she said.
A 38-year-old housewife, who wants to be known only as Kathy, has been selling cookies out of her flat for the past three years. She advertises on free ad websites and accepts cash on delivery.
The mother of two has sold 100 jars of cookies so far this Chinese New Year season, and said that she knows of many others who bake from home to sell.
'Most of us know this is not allowed, but we sell by word of mouth or through the Internet,' said Kathy, who was retrenched three years ago. 'We are scared the authorities will find out because we are generating an income. But if people ask, we say we are just selling to friends.'
The proliferation of such home-grown businesses, said senior retail lecturer Sarah Lim from Singapore Polytechnic's business school, can be put down to two reasons - the challenges entrepreneurs face setting up businesses here and increased demand.
However, she added that the rules are necessary to maintain hygiene standards.
Her suggestion is for the Government to give more leeway and start a registry of these home businesses. 'These entrepreneurs must start small. When they start making money, they will be encouraged to try bigger things,' she said.
Meanwhile, members of Whisk and Fold are optimistic they will do well beyond the festive season. One of them, Ms Charmaine Tan, 31, quit her job in a bank last year to become a full-time baker. 'I will slowly extend my offerings to other baked goods like tea snacks for the corporate market,' said Ms Tan, who specialises in brownies. 'The legal route is the only way to sustain a business in the long firstname.lastname@example.org