These days, suffering from a food allergy isn’t as much of a big deal. Grocery shopping entails, at most, keeping an eye out for conspicuous ‘GF’ labels, or heading straight to a dedicated organic aisle. People don’t raise as many eyebrows if you ask the maitre’d if something is allergen-free.
But for Sebastian Chia and Wendy Foo, the husband-wife team behind organic supermarket Ryan’s Grocery, hunting down allergen-friendly foods wasn’t always so easy.
Their eldest son Ryan, now 13, is intolerant to a laundry list of common ingredients, including — but not limited to — eggs, dairy, gluten, yeast, soy, and nuts. And in the early aughts, it made grocery shopping something of a pain.
“Before setting up Ryan’s Grocery, we travelled frequently just to find allergen-friendly food to fulfil our needs, as well as to fulfil requests from our family and friends,” says Foo.
Australia was their usual port of call for organic foods, thanks to the country’s stringent health regulations and a strong awareness what it meant to produce all-natural foods.
Before long, the couple had amassed something of a stockpile of organic foods; they jokingly say that they only started the business when they “needed a place to store the food that we brought in”. And so Ryan’s Grocery was born in 2015.
Since then, Chia and Foo say that the demand for organic food has only grown. “Many people have learned the importance of food in healing, and are aware of illnesses resulting from the intake of certain foods,” says Chia, who adds that more customers are taking tests for food intolerances to be more mindful of what they eat.
While they note some people might assume that organic foods are just a lot of bunkum, the couple can attest to the benefits of an all-natural diet. Beyond the fact that organic beef is found to contain three times more Omega-3 fatty acids (the same nutrients you’d get in fish oil supplements) when compared to their factory-farmed counterparts, Chia and Foo feed their two sons the same stuff that’s found in the Grocery.
“Our curation process for Ryan’s Grocery is very much focused on what we would want in our own kitchen,” says Foo. “For example, since Ryan has gluten, dairy, nuts and soy intolerances, there are many dishes and goodies we can’t make unless we have quality rice milk or cream — that’s why 90 percent of our products are allergen-friendly. We will only sell products that we consume ourselves.”
The goodness doesn’t just stop at the organic products that they bring in. Chia and Foo call themselves ‘Grocers with a Cause’, and say that they’re always looking for ways to give back.
As parents to a child with special needs, the couple often tie up with local charities and organisations close to their heart. Their last collaboration with Rainbow Centre in April was to mark World Autism Awareness Day — from April 2 to 12, the Ryan’s brand donated 10 percent of their sales from both its Grocery and Kitchen to the charity to help build a better campus for persons with autism. Previously, they’ve also worked with the Association for Persons with Special Needs, St Andrew’s Autism Centre, and Assisi Hospice.
Though they import most of their goods, Ryan’s Grocery is also mindful of its carbon footprint. They import products in small quantities based on demand, and actively seek out producers who offer certified carbon-neutral products.
And the couple keep their two sons actively involved in their charity work as well. The family often visits homes for persons with special needs both locally and abroad, often bringing the residents groceries, or have a meal with them.
It’s all part of Chia and Foo’s ethos that good food shouldn’t just stop at taste. “It’s a trend that’s growing,” says Foo. “Food isn’t just consumed to satisfy hunger, but it’s used to heal.”