Looking for high quality, sustainable meat and seafood in Singapore? We chat with Sasha Conlan about sourcing clean food from sustainable suppliers – the fundamental principle behind her popular food import business, Sasha’s Fine Foods.
When she moved from London to Singapore 10 years ago, Sasha found it extremely tricky to find clean and healthy essentials like chicken, fish and meat. Discovering that most supermarket offerings contained antibiotics and hormones, she decided to contact farmers in New Zealand and Australia, whom she’d met during her travels, to see about importing lamb meat for her family.
When friends started adding requests each month, Sasha saw a prime opportunity to bring together her passion for cooking and eating with the growing demand for “cleaner” food in Singapore. In 2011, she set up The Barbie Girls, which presented food-conscious shoppers with a real choice in how they bought their weekly supplies of chicken, fish and meat – a first in the Singapore market at the time.
“I could see there was an increasing awareness and concern about food quality, sourcing and sustainability, which led me to take the leap in setting up The Barbie Girls,” Sasha says. “That was six years ago and, thankfully, demand has never been stronger from both new and long-standing customers who value our ethos and approach.”
From day one, Sasha’s approach to business has been rooted in two core values: transparency and quality. “I really want my customers to know as much about our products and where they come from as I do. I focus heavily on telling the story about each and every producer – who they are, why I source from them, how they farm or fish, what the animals are fed – I have a whole ‘provenance’ section dedicated to this on our website. This reassures consumers, which is critical in building trust, and I think it also humanises the story of what we eat.”
The promise of quality
“Quality is absolutely vital,” she continues, “which is why I so regularly reject new products offered to me. It has to tick every box, from taste and flavour to environmental and welfare considerations. Only the best of the best is added to my range, which means slow and steady product expansion so customers know they can trust what they’re buying.”
It was this promise of quality and working only with people who respect the entire process of food production that kept her loyal customer base – which, Sasha says, includes everyone from young families looking to establish good eating habits for their kids, expectant mums and people recovering from illnesses trying to minimise exposure to unnecessary hormones and antibiotics, to super-fit men and women looking for clean protein – coming back for more. Over time, Sasha’s product range expanded well beyond steaks, sausages and other barbecue meats to meet the ever-growing demand. This, in turn, led her to reposition the brand earlier this year so that customers would have a clearer understanding of its offerings.
Now called Sasha’s Fine Foods, the online shop features an even more extensive selection of poultry, fish and meat, plus a grocery section that includes everything from Italian burrata cheese, Australian goat’s cheese, cage-free eggs from New Zealand and homemade bone broths to all sorts of healthy Australian snacks, dry pastas, sauces, olive oil, craft spirits and artisanal treats.
Among Sasha’s bestsellers are the local, free-roaming, additive-free Anxin chicken from Malaysia, Mount Cook Freshwater Alpine Salmon (New Zealand) – which Sasha says is a big hit with kids thanks to its mild, non-oily flavour – and free-range pork from Wicks Manor Farm in England. Sasha says she’s also seeing a big increase in popularity for sustainable fish from the UK and Australia as customers diversify to include less red meat in their diets.
What sets Sasha’s Fine Foods apart
As for what sets her business apart from retailers offering free-range, sustainable and organic products, Sasha points out two key factors. “One is the fact that we’re an e-commerce-only company, which gives me a very clear, singular focus on exemplary customer service. It starts the minute someone visits our website, right to the moment my amazing drivers unpack a delivery in someone’s kitchen. This level of service is an increasingly important part of why customers remain loyal, and I believe we lead the pack in this regard.”
Another key is that, unlike some other retailers, Sasha knows exactly what she’s buying and from whom she’s sourcing. “It’s deeply personal and hands-on for me,” says Sasha. “I think if you’re serious about food, and you want customers to really trust you, it’s imperative to go behind the scenes and see first-hand exactly how food is raised. You get an instant understanding of produce when you walk the farms or spend a day out on a boat.” She adds, “Many retailers buy from sales reps or websites, which, in my view, is never the best strategy. I also get to talk directly to vets and caretakers, which allows me to learn about welfare, feed and environmental aspects of production. So, these visits are hugely informative and I feel they’re a real differentiator from others in the market.”
Trips to the suppliers
Sasha makes four “big trips” per year to visit her suppliers, walking farms and fisheries everywhere from the English and Irish countryside to New Zealand’s alpine rivers and Australian cattle lands. “It’s my favourite part of the whole business and, in my ideal world, every day would be spent trotting around farms and fisheries! Each year, I identify what I want to source and then begin the research stage. For example, I wanted to add the best organic beef possible, so I visited some highly regarded farms in Australia and New Zealand to meet the owners, talk to the vets and see how the animals were being raised. I also took a trip to Ireland, known the world over for its ‘green’ farming, and this is where I finally made my choice because I was so impressed with what I saw and who I met.”
Sasha says she is “fortunate and privileged” to have a career in food; for her, it’s never a chore, and she loves every minute of it. “I find it exhilarating to witness the entire journey from a rainy farm on a cold winter’s morning in New Zealand or Scotland, to seeing products being loaded into our cool trucks in Jurong, en route to happy customers around the island.”
Five key questions to ask when buying your meat and seafood
#1 “Where is this beef, chicken or seafood from?”
It’s best to opt for countries with tight regulations, such as Australia, New Zealand and EU member countries, for example.
#2 “How was it raised or farmed?”
Ask if products are factory farmed, or free-range or organic.
#3 “What has this beef, chicken or seafood been fed?”
You’re basically eating what your food has eaten. Commercial fish feed, for example, may contain harmful by-products – so, do your research! As for meat, the food eaten by exclusively grass-fed cows is very different from the food eaten by conventionally-fed cows; research has shown nutritional advantages from beef, milk, and milk-derived foods obtained from 100 percent grass-fed cows.
#4 “What additives have been used in production and processing?”
Were hormones, antibiotics or chlorine involved?
#5 “Is this seafood MSC-certified?”
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an international body that conducts sustainability audits for the seafood industry. If a product bears the MSC label, the consumer can purchase with confidence.