Singapore has recently emerged as the foodtech hub of Asia, largely thanks to the government’s heavy support in the industry.
According to the Asia Alternative Protein Industry Report, several leading startups in the food technology (foodtech) field are headquartered in Singapore. This includes firms in growing sectors like cellular agriculture and whole plant food optimisation.
The emerging foodtech ecosystem has been heavily driven by government support and funding. Singapore aims to produce almost a third of the food that it requires by 2030, and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has set a target — dubbed as 30 by 30 — of producing 30 percent of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030.
Singapore currently imports 90 per cent of food consumed in the country. A heavy reliance on imported food means that Singapore faces unique challenges in ensuring a steady supply of food for the population.
Last year, it was announced that Singapore has a S$100 billion plan to help the city-state adapt to the climate crisis. This also includes funding initiatives to improve the state’s food self-sufficiency.
The nation state is thus investing heavily in alternative protein research and development, as well as biotechnology to ramp up local food production. This has led to Singapore developing a robust foodtech ecosystem.
The intersection between food and technology
Foodtech is an ecosystem made of all the agrifood entrepreneurs and startups innovating on the products, distribution, marketing or business models. It is a booming industry, with Forbes predicting that it is expected to exceed US$250 billion (S$342.8 billion) by 2022.
The opportunity to use technology to improve food is massive and extends to improving food usage, alternative means of food production, and other innovations.
Here are some industries that make up the foodtech ecosystem in Singapore:
Agriculture technology, or agritech for short, has become more important than ever before since the world’s population is growing but resources are shrinking.
It is an industry that involves the use of modern technologies to increase production yield, improve food quality and promote sustainability in the value chain.
According to Enterprise Singapore, high-tech farming and modern aquaculture are set to power the next leap in primary food production innovation.
Today, Singapore’s agritech ecosystem is made up of diverse players across the value chain from farm inputs and systems providers, to high-tech commercial farms that produce food for local consumption.
An example is Singrow, which has developed a vertical farming solution that addresses every stage of a plant’s agricultural journey, from breeding to harvesting.
Another startup, Comcrop, is Singapore’s urban farming pioneer. It grows food on rooftops near where communities live by reinvigorating marginalised spaces and embracing marginalised workforces harvest the highest quality pesticide-free produce in Singapore.
Local agri-tech startup Citiponics piloted a 1,800 square metres farm atop the carpark at Block 700 in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6 which can grow between three and four tonnes of vegetables a month.
Investor sentiment in this industry is strong as well. In 2019, Singapore received the highest level of investment of US$177 million (S$240.8 million) for agrifood tech among ASEAN markets.
Cell-cultured and plant-based meats are now a more common feature on menus in Singapore. These are an example of food science, whereby startups are developing new food products that answer health and environmental concerns.
Director of food manufacturing at Enterprise Singapore told The Straits Times that over the past two years, more than 15 alternative protein startups have set up base in Singapore.
Last December, Singapore became the first country in the world to approve the sale of a cell-cultured meat product, when the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) gave the green light to US startup Eat Just to start selling its lab-grown chicken meat here.
The cell-cultured chicken is produced under Eat Just’s GOOD Meat brand through partnerships with Singaporean manufacturers, and will eventually be available in restaurants.
Shiok Meats is a Singapore startup which is disrupting the seafood industry. It is the first-of-its-kind clean meat company in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
Shiok Meats stands out from other cell-based meat production companies because of its proprietary technology that isolates stem cells from shrimp, lobster, and crab — they are the first company to be able to do this for cell-based production.
Shiok’s patent-pending technology can grow crustaceans four times faster than conventional production, and the startup has raised a total of US$20.4 million in funding over three rounds.
Furthermore, TurtleTree Labs, a Singaporean startup, is creating lab-grown human breast milk as the better alternative to infant formula. Using stem cell technology, the startup is capable of recreating the mammalian breast milk of any species.
Another startup, Gaia Foods, is Southeast Asia’s first clean red meat company that produces meat using stem cell technology.
Startups in the food service industry are reinventing the hospitality industry and creating the conditions for the restaurants of the future with robotics and cloud kitchens.
These startups aim to tackle problems like the tight manpower crunch, as well as increase productivity and efficiency in the industry.
For example, Singaporean company ROSS Digital Pte Ltd conceptualised and launched RATIO, the world’s first robotic café and lounge.
A cafe by day and a lounge by night, RATIO has robots working hand in hand with its F&B staff — “ratiologists” — to offer “super drinks and exceptional services to consumers.”
Another example is Flash Coffee, a tech-enabled coffee chain.
In an interview with Vulcan Post, Flash Coffee CEO David Brunier shared that the coffee industry was mostly not digitised and many brands were serving average quality coffee at premium prices, making it largely unaffordable to the mass markets.
He explained that the high prices are mostly driven by spacious locations, unoptimised staffing and under-utilised baristas.
Flash Coffee has thus incorporated a myriad of technological processes into its operations. First, its consumer app enables customers to order and pay online, pick up their drinks or get them delivered, use Flash’s loyalty programme and take part in challenges.
Flash also has a barista app, which is the bridge between the consumer app and the respective outlets that consumers order from. According to David, it improves the operational efficiency of stores and enables performance-based incentives for its baristas, ensuring an unparalleled customer experience.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, food delivery services have risen in popularity, and might even have become a necessity for some.
Besides delivery giants like GrabFood, foodpanda and Deliveroo, individual startups have also stepped up to answer the delivery challenges in the food industry, with home delivery of groceries, restaurant meals or meals prepared in their kitchens.
For example, Singapore startup Yummy Bros delivers affordable, customisable and healthy food to customers’ homes.
WhatIF Foods‘ healthy instant noodles are dehydrated through steaming and high-velocity air instead of deep frying. This results in 55 per cent less fat, 130 per cent more dietary fibre and 110 per cent more protein than the typical ones on the market.
While the startup’s products can be bought via its stockists, it also has a subscription plan for its noodles and soups.
Even traditional food and beverage brands have also started digitising. Heritage dim sum brand Swee Choon set up a cloud kitchen at Tampines Food Co last year, which offers both dine-in and delivery options for customers.
A cloud kitchen is an ecosystem of shared kitchens, storage facilities and delivery infrastructures.
This setup allows business owners to reduce their overhead costs and expand their reach to more diners via on-demand delivery services. Customers too can enjoy lower delivery fees as well as shorter waiting time.
The future of foodtech
All around the world, foodtech is a growing industry.
According to PitchBook, funding for foodtech has skyrocketed from about US$60 million in 2008 to more than US$1 billion in 2015, with the number growing continuously. 2018 was an exceptional year for foodtech globally, with a record-breaking $16.9 billion in funding recorded.
In Singapore, the government has been showed strong support for foodtech companies, which has led to the unprecedented rise of foodtech startups in the city.
The future of foodtech in Singapore seems bright — since so much of the nation’s food comes from outside the borders, Singapore is in a better position to innovate and come up with new technologies to support food production within the country.
Furthermore, Singapore’s highly urbanised environment makes it an ideal setting for high-tech innovations in indoor farming.
Over the next few years, we will continue to see new advances in agritech, alternative protein, food service and delivery, as well as other areas of the food supply chain.
Featured Image Credit: The Spoon