Sadia is a brand under Brazilian meat processing heavyweight BRF, which leads the frozen meats market in multiple markets including Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil, the Middle East and many more, in addition to being the largest chicken exporter in the world.
Despite its widespread reach, the brand has faced a significant challenge in Singapore over a deep-rooted misconception amongst consumers here – that frozen chicken is inferior to fresh chicken in terms of freshness, nutrition and taste which relegates it to be a second choice at times.
This was further compounded during the recent chicken supply shortage after Malaysia, Singapore previous top supplier of chickens, announced that it would be banning exports due to a local supply shortage leading to many Singapore consumers and businesses having to switch to frozen chicken – and public complaints surfacing about poorer taste and/or freshness as a result.
“Actually I would say some 50% of Singapore’s chicken consumption is already made out of frozen chicken – it’s just that businesses might not normally announce it so many consumers are unaware, and having this change made public to them made them feel shocked,” BRF South East Asia Regional Commercial Manager Raphael Leibel told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“There is a lot of misconception going around in Singapore about how frozen chicken is inferior to fresh chicken, when in fact the freezing process in itself is a preservative that seals in the freshness, the nutrients and the flavour and should do nothing more than increase its shelf life.
“Sometimes consumers can complain that the texture is different too – but this will only occur if the chicken is not thawed properly. The reason here is that it is the formation of ice crystals inside the meat that can disrupt the proteins and affect the texture, but we use a burst freezing process that prevents ice crystals from forming.
“It is only if the proper freezing process is not used that allows ice crystals to form inside, or the meat is thawed and refrozen more than once in consumer homes, that the texture might be affected – we recommend that meat only be frozen and thawed once, and that the thawing process be slow i.e. move the meat from freezer to fridge 24 hours in advance of usage.”
If done properly, frozen chicken could not only provide consumers with equivalent taste and nutritional benefits, but also ensure a more consistent supply of this protein.
“We all know that the supply of frozen chicken is more stable than that of fresh chicken, as can be seen with the previous Malaysia ban, so it might be a good choice for Singapore businesses and consumers to make the switch,” said Leibel.
“In addition, frozen chicken is also more affordable, has a longer shelf life and is actually safer in food safety terms as the freezing process prevents the formation of microorganism colonies.
“If you take the myth out of it, there are really a good deal of benefits to be found from choosing frozen – we’ve seen people run blind tests on fresh versus frozen and as expected, if done properly, the majority of consumers cannot tell the difference just by taste alone, so that just goes to show how much myth the whole misconception involves.”
Diversification of sources crucial
The fresh versus frozen debate aside, Leibel also believes that Singapore needs to focus on diversifying its sources of poultry supply in order to ensure food security.
“The Malaysia situation has shown that it is a bad idea to for example count on chickens from Malaysia alone, as it places the country’s food supply in danger of instability, so diversification is definitely the best way to go,” he said.
“So bringing in more sources from Brazil or the Middle East or wherever, establishing those supply chains is important – but of course we know the government here is very careful and not going to just open its trade borders to anyone, which is good in terms of food safety.
“So from BRF’s point of view, our plan is very much to increase our volumes here in Singapore to ensure a consistent, high quality, safe supply.”
The firm is also looking at more types of innovation to improve its offerings here – for instance, it is planning to increase products based on an individual quick freeze (IQF) technology which will enable consumers to take out individual pieces of frozen chicken from a pack and avoid the dreaded thawing and refreezing.
“We already mentioned that thawing and refreezing is that kills the texture, and it also increases the potential of contamination, so to avoid this we are using IQF technology to give consumers more convenient products that are also safer,” he said.
“So this would mean a consumer can reach into the pack and take out one chicken drumstick for dinner and not need to take the bag out of the freezer for long enough just to release one piece, which risks it all thawing and then needing to refreeze.”