That Singapore is a fast-rising superpower in food tech is something that’s become apparent over the last several months. And yesterday, during a SKS 2020 panel on the Asian food tech landscape, the city-state came up in conversation again as an enormously important location to watch when it comes to food innovation and investment.
“If I had to place my bet I would place it on Singapore,” said Michal Klar, an angel investor who also writes the Future Food Now newsletter. Joining him on the panel were Winnie Leung of Bits x Bites and Spoon Publisher Mike Wolf, and together, the group unpacked some of the reasons why so much food tech innovation is coming out of Singapore right now.
Arguably the biggest driver is that, at the moment, Singapore imports 90 percent of its food. That’s a precarious position to be in during the best of times, never mind during a pandemic that’s disrupted the global food supply chain. In response, the Singapore government launched a $21 million grant fund this year as part of its 30×30 initiative, which aims to have 30 percent of Singapore’s food produced locally by 2030.
At the same time, that reliance on imports for the majority of its foods may actually help Singapore innovate on food tech faster for the short term. Since so much of the city-state’s food comes from outside its own borders, Singapore lacks some of the constraints other countries face when it comes to getting pushback by established players.
Alternative protein is a good example. Here in the U.S., both plant- and cell-based meat companies must go toe-to-toe with Big Meat producers and lobbyists over labeling of their products, shelf placement, and other issues. By contrast, Klar suggested that because Singapore’s meat supply is imported there’s nobody to push back on new developments and regulations happening in the city-state around alternative forms of meat. That, Klar reasoned, is one of the reasons Singapore is home to Asia’s best-funded cell-base meat startup, Shiok Meats, as well as a number of other up and coming players.
Indoor agriculture/vertical farming is another area that could potentially thrive because of a lack of existing incumbents. Last year, local farms produced just 14 percent of leafy vegetables consumed by Singaporeans, so there’s little in the way of traditional agriculture to disrupt. At SKS, Leung noted that Singapore’s “highly urbanized” environment makes it an ideal setting for high-tech innovations in indoor farming. We’ve seen this in recent months with companies like SinGrow, which is growing a proprietary breed of strawberries in its vertical farm, and ag tech accelerators like GROW. Leung also flagged aquaculture as a sector to watch in Singapore.
Both Klar and Leung also pointed to Singapore’s regulatory environment as a reason for the city-states speedy growth in food tech innovation. There is only one agency in Singapore that regulates foods, said Klar. In other words, when companies prepare for the phase in which they must get government approval for their products, there’s no doubt or confusion as to who they must go to. This could speed up the process of regulatory approval, which in turn would mean a faster time to market for many companies.
The above factors are just a smattering of reasons for Singapore food tech’s continued growth, and over the next several months we will continue to see new advances in ag tech, alt protein, packaging, and other areas of the food supply chain emerge.