Singapore’s fast-disappearing hawker food culture has been the subject of hot debate over the past few years, with the worrying trend of an ageing hawker trade that’s not seeing much renewal and one under the double threat of rising costs and modern competition. In fact, a number of iconic traditional street food dishes are increasingly harder to find, with many old-time recipes and skills that’s been perfected over decades lost. Very interestingly, Singapore’s very own Tiger Beer recently started a new movement to help celebrate and preserve the country’s unique food heritage.
The #UncageStreetFood campaign sees a series of three heartstrings-pulling and enlightening videos featuring the difficulties the trade is facing, and aims to galvanise Singaporeans into appreciating the hawker trade and help preserve it.
“Tiger Beer and street food are synonymous with our hawker heritage in Singapore. As the iconic Singapore beer, Tiger Beer seeks to reclaim the pride and passion for a fellow national icon by putting our local street food back in the spotlight,” says Venus Teoh, Head of Marketing, Asia Pacific Breweries (Singapore). “It’s time to preserve what we love.”
And Ms Teoh is certainly right about the unique relationship Tiger Beer has with the hawker trade – in every hawker centre, almost every drinks stall carries the locally-brewed beer in its offerings, with the recognisable blue-and-gold liveried bottle playing companion to many patrons as they enjoy their street fare and each other’s company.
One surprise about the three short stories is how little Tiger Beer actually features within them; in fact you’d be hard-pressed to find bottle or logo emblazoned anywhere, surely a welcome departure from its usual brash, in-your-face branding efforts.
But the real surprise is really how long it took Tiger Beer to realise that much of its fate is tied with the fortunes and the future of the hawker centre. Tiger Beer kicked off its first significant rebranding exercise in 2014 since Asia Pacific Breweries was acquired by Heineken back in 2012, and its Uncage campaign at that time took an aspirational turn targeted a much younger and hipper crowd by addressing the familiar theme of the breaking free of restraints and convention. Perhaps refocusing its Uncage campaign to preserving street food and returning to its roots by associating itself as a hawker centre stalwart is a tacit admission by Tiger Beer that the original theme did not quite resonate with that target audience as much as the brand had expected.
This new campaign, however, is one that likely will. With food being one of the biggest passions of Singaporeans, and with the destiny of the country’s much-beloved street food culture – one lauded by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay – that is so much part of our national identity at extreme risk #UncageStreetFood will stick to the Singaporean consciousness far more than anything else can.
But a mere campaign of moving pictures and social niceties will not save the dying hawker trade. To that end Tiger Beer will be putting its money where its mouth is by investing 20 cents for every 6-can pack (6 x 323ml) purchase at all leading supermarkets and hypermarkets to its street food movement from 1st April to 31st May 2016.
Yet it remains to be seen how much the money raised can help the cause. The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) recently announced a hawker committee to explore ideas on how to support the hawker trade in Singapore; some of us may actually welcome the idea of APB’s Venus Teoh taking a seat on that panel.
Disclosure: Author of this article Daniel Goh is the owner of The Good Beer Company and the co-owner of Smith Street Taps, both based in Chinatown Complex hawker centre. He has a vested interest in keeping Singapore’s hawker culture alive.