Advance, Accelerate, Access: Singapore, the innovation hub gateway to feeding Asia and the world

Before the Singapore Economic Development Board hosts an interactive workshop at Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins, we spoke to their Executive Vice President, Damian Chan to learn more about their ambition to make Singapore the global hub for sustainable agri-food solutions.

The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) is hosting a workshop at Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins on ‘Scaling up Alternative Proteins in Asia”, why is it important and timely to think about Asia?

It is indeed an opportune time to think about Asia. As the fastest growing region, Asia’s population will be 250 million larger by 2030. Total spending on food will double from US$4 trillion in 2019 to over US$8 trillion by 2030. These numbers imply a total annual investment requirement of US$290 billion in 2030 which will unlock market growth of around 7% per year.

Asia is also urbanising faster than any other region and by 2030, 65% of the world’s middle-class population will reside in Asia. Consumer preferences are therefore shifting. The growing middle class and its rising purchasing power will drive up consumption and demand for high-value animal protein. As consumers look for more nutritious and tastier food options, there will be shifts from carbohydrate-reliant to protein-heavy diets. That is an opportunity the alternative protein industry can help address, and we are already observing investments in Asia catering to the demand. Beyond Meat have decided to establish their manufacturing facility in China, Eat Just, Inc is establishing their largest protein isolate facility globally in Singapore, and Oatly has formed a partnership with Yeo Hiap Seng to build a manufacturing facility in Singapore.

Asia is such a diverse region, what are some key challenges you foresee hindering the ability to meet such a demand growth?

There are several key challenges that need to be addressed. For starters, there are a lack of infrastructure investments and clear policy frameworks to support the introduction of new technologies across the food and agricultural ecosystems. Asia’s diversity of countries, in terms of differences in regulatory systems, levels of economic development and culture, currencies and dietary preferences, fragmented production and supply chains, also makes it difficult for a single standard solution to work. In that regard, innovations and marketing strategies require customization to meet the unique needs of Asia. As an example, Asians have been eating vegetarian products for some time through different forms, as a result different marketing and product strategies will likely be required to raise the awareness on the differentiation and benefits of alternative proteins.

In this context, Singapore is a good location to identify like-minded partners, design products to local preferences, safeguard intellectual property, scale technology-intensive infrastructure, and launch dedicated go-to-market strategies.

There has been a lot of media coverage on Singapore gradually becoming the leading hub for agri-food technology and innovation, why is this so?

As a resource-constrained urban city-state, global concerns on food resilience are more critical for us. However, advancements in technology are rapidly changing the resources required to increase production efficiency – we can now hope to produce more with less. In that regard, we announced our “30 by 30” vision, whereby we aim to have 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs be produced locally by 2030, up from less than 10% today.

To fulfil this vision, various government agencies are working closely together to ensure Singapore has the right infrastructure and technology in place, while also creating a conducive economic environment that supports innovators and enterprises. I believe it is Singapore’s openness and the fundamental ease of doing business here that have led many companies to choose Singapore as their launchpad.

What is EDB’s role in supporting this vision? How would you describe Singapore’s strategy and approach for the agri-food industry?

EDB partners with global leaders to help create jobs and contribute towards the development of new technologies and know-how as we build up the agri-food industry in Singapore. This contributes not only to Singapore’s goal in food security, it also helps us stay ahead of the curve in understanding novel technologies to build a healthy and resilient food system. Our ambition is for Singapore to be the global hub for companies to develop sustainable agri-food solutions and be able to scale and grow beyond Singapore’s shores.

Singapore seeks to constantly improve what we can offer. Together with industry partners, the push can be described as the three ‘As” of Agri-food – Advance, Accelerate, and Access.

In 2019, Singapore announced the setting up of the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (or SIFBI) at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (or A*STAR). Through driving innovation in novel foods and ingredients, the aim is to boost local produce capabilities, and satisfy global demand for safer, healthier and more sustainable food.

Examples include Perfect Day who established a joint bioanalytics R&D lab with A*STAR. &ever who in addition to setting up a fully automated indoor farm producing 500 tons of fresh produce annually, will also set up its Global R&D Centre and work with A*STAR and local academic institutes to explore research collaborations. Bühler and Givaudan who recently launched their joint innovation centre dedicated to plant-based food.

Our local start-ups are also rising to the occasion and are becoming serious global players. Shiok Meats is allocating a portion of its $12.6m Series A funding to building a commercial pilot plant, TurtleTree Labs spun off TurtleTree Scientific to focus on food grade growth factors that will support the global cellular agriculture industry, and Sustenir has launched indoor vertical farms in Hong Kong and Malaysia, on top of scaling up its farm in Singapore.

Agri-food is a nascent industry, with many new innovations and products. Singapore is assisting companies by building the right environment to get started, pilot new innovations and explore new areas of collaboration. The Food Tech Innovation Centre is being set up by Temasek and the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) to accelerate the commercialization of food technologies by investing in food tech start-ups based in Singapore and Asia. Among other things, the centre will focus on the production of plant-based proteins and precision fermentation, and will assist companies in pilot batch production before products can be launched commercially.

The ability to develop and commercialise new products is complemented with a safe, trusted and well-connected environment, with free access to the regional and global markets. COVID-19 has brought to the fore the importance of access and supply chain resilience. As an example, SATS and Country Foods have started building capabilities to position themselves as a ‘one-stop’ platform supporting companies from downstream processing to distribution, not just in Singapore but the region.

Which recent developments or advancements in technology for plant-based, cell-based and fermentation solutions do you think are most exciting and relevant for the Asia market?  

With the growth trajectory for animal protein in Asia over the next decade, developments across all alternative protein modalities are equally important to monitor. What will be interesting to watch is how companies will adapt the products to suit local taste and form factor preferences, scale the production capacity in an efficient manner, and deploy the right go-to-market strategies.

Any final words on why participants should join EDB’s workshop on “Scaling Alternative Proteins in Asia” happening on 23 June, 9am EST?

Don’t take our word for it. Join us for an interactive session with our esteemed panel guests who are on the same journey. There will be no silver bullet but together we can facilitate an ongoing conversation on what it will take to feed Asia and the world in a more sustainable manner.

Damian’s colleague, Jingxin Zheng, Regional Vice President, Americas, will be chairing the workshop ‘Scaling Alternative Proteins in Asia’ at the upcoming Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins summit on June 22-23 and will be joined by:

Andre Menezes Co-Founder and COO, NEXT GEN FOODS
Allyson Fish, President, Global Plant and Alternative Proteins, ADM
Erik Lightner, Vice President & Division Leader, Consumer Products, HASKELL
Geraldine Goh, Director, Enterprise Development Group, TEMASEK

View the Workshop >>