S’pore’s Push For Local Produce Has Sparked A Rise In Agri-Foodtech Startups – Will It Last?

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Within the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore noticed a number of bouts of panic shopping for, with Singaporeans flocking to the grocery store to refill on important gadgets. 

Most of the nation’s leaders needed to step in to reassure Singaporeans that town was not liable to operating out of important meals provides. 

Nevertheless, this shone the highlight on the problem of meals safety in Singapore. 

Based on the Singapore Meals Company (SFA), Singapore presently imports 90 per cent of meals consumed within the nation. A heavy reliance on imported meals implies that Singapore faces distinctive challenges in making certain a gradual provide of meals for the inhabitants.

Moreover, the island can be closely impacted by any adjustments within the world meals provide, together with value fluctuations.

The issue has lengthy been acknowledged, and Singapore goals to provide nearly a 3rd of the meals that it requires by 2030. SFA has set a goal — dubbed as 30 by 30 — of manufacturing 30 % of Singapore’s dietary wants by 2030. 

With the renewed curiosity in meals safety, the nation has seen an increase in agriculture expertise (agritech) and meals expertise (foodtech) startups, in addition to a wave of investor funding and authorities help within the space.

Agri-Meals Tech: A New Frontier In Sustainable Meals Provide

There’s large potential in agriculture and meals expertise, or agri-food tech for brief. 

Singapore is rising because the foodtech capital of Asia, with the federal government investing S$100 billion to organize for the consequences of the present local weather disaster. 

The foodtech ecosystem contains many various tenets, from creating new meals merchandise to future meals like lab-grown meats. 

Corporations would possibly innovate on present meals merchandise to create new provides of meals that can be extra sustainable for the nation and its individuals, and even area of interest audiences just like the aged. 

Foodtech is a booming trade, with Forbes predicting that it’s anticipated to exceed US$250 billion (S$342.eight billion) by 2022.

Based on Dr Sherman Ho, CEO and co-founder of Hoow Meals, the foodtech trade is “very various and runs gamut from paying options, meals supply options, right down to overlaps with the agritech trade.” 

Hoow Meals makes use of proprietary reformulation expertise to make usually indulgent meals equivalent to ice cream wholesome. 

Agritech firms, alternatively, are geared in direction of redesigning farming operations that not must be constrained by house, local weather, and guide labour.

After all, there are overlaps as effectively.

Cricket Flour and Black Soldier Fly Meal / Picture Credit score: Asia Insect Farm Options

Asia Insect Farm Options (AIFS) is one such startup that straddles the road between meals and agritech. 

It’s within the midst of constructing Asia’s first mechanised and fully-automated city cricket manufacturing facility to acclimatise and rear crickets at industrial scale to transform to insect-based proteins.

Raavee Shanker, CEO and co-founder of AIFS advised Vulcan Submit that the worldwide edible bugs market is forecasted to succeed in US$1.three billion (S$1.78 billion) by 2023.

Each the foodtech and agritech industries are important in boosting Singapore’s possibilities of attaining the 30 by 30 aim.

Agri-foodtech startups in Singapore
Agri-foodtech startups in Singapore / Picture Credit score: Vulcan Submit

Over the previous few years, there was a notable wave of agri-food tech startups in Singapore, as seen within the above desk.

Meals Is Evergreen

In an interview with Vulcan Submit, Alan Phua, CEO and co-founder of Alchemy Foodtech mused that the Covid-19 interval has proven him that “meals is evergreen”. 

“We will do business from home, however we will by no means devour digital meals,” he stated. 

Alchemy Foodtech has developed Alchemy Fibre, a proprietary product geared toward making carbohydrates more healthy to focus on the burgeoning drawback of diabetes in Singapore.

Hoow Meals additionally goals to emphasize on the “prevention” of illnesses equivalent to diabetes by way of meals. The startup launched Callery’s low-calorie ice cream in 2018.

callery's ice cream foodtech
Callery’s Ice Cream / Picture Credit score: Eat What Tonight

“We envision making an impression on shopper well being by way of reformulation of standard, acquainted meals to make them rather more wholesome while retaining style and texture,” stated Sherman. 

The startup tends to be related to the group of foodtech firms that take care of various proteins and practical components, since they utilise novel components of their work.

Based on Sherman, this section now accounts for round a 3rd of the foodtech market. 

Foodtech startups like Alchemy Foodtech and Hoow Meals additionally make a case for “sustainable well being”. 

Sherman shared that “whereas a sustainable surroundings is vital, the well being of individuals must also be sustainable in order that we will benefit from the surroundings and earth longer.”

Though our surroundings has modified drastically, the way in which we devour meals has remained largely the identical all through the years. 

Likewise, Raavee of AIFS shared that the meals we eat for day by day sustenance haven’t developed as a lot and “we nonetheless rely to a big extent on the identical meals sorts that our mother and father and grandparents did.” 

The founder additionally questioned whether or not Singapore can proceed on the identical trajectory of importing meals from over 170 international locations, when these international locations have gotten quickly urbanised as effectively. 

That was what led AIFS to see a singular and big untapped alternative for insect-based proteins to be an economical, climate-resilient and resource-efficient resolution for an city group equivalent to Singapore.

Moreover novel meals applied sciences and various protein, vertical farming options are additionally the following huge factor in Singapore’s agri-foodtech scene. 

In Singapore, a handful of multi-storey public housing automobile parks are earmarked by the federal government to be transformed into rooftop farms. 

That is helpful to firms like agri-tech startup Citiponics, who piloted SFA’s multi-storey carpark rooftop farm mission in Ang Mo Kio in 2019.

citiponics danielle chan
Danielle Chan, Co-founder of Citiponics / Picture Credit score: Citiponics

Based on Danielle Chan, co-founder of Citiponics, its 1,800 sq. metres farm atop the carpark at Block 700 in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6 can develop between three and 4 tonnes of greens a month.

They develop as much as 25 various kinds of greens naturally with out the usage of pesticides.

In the meantime, agritech startup Singrow has repurposed a sports activities corridor right into a vertical farm and harvests as much as 1,600kg of homegrown strawberries annually.

Sustenir Agriculture’s founder Benjamin Swan has additionally at all times been involved about sustainability. Since its inception in 2013, the startup has produced lettuce, arugula, basil, and two sorts of kale in its indoor vertical farm in Singapore.

As a result of shortage of land, conventional farming was phased out within the 70s and 80s in Singapore, to create space for industrial improvement.

Thus, many have touted vertical farming as the trendy resolution to rising meals in cities as it may possibly optimise land use whereas working on minimal manpower. 

Nevertheless, constructing and working a vertical farm would possibly require the usage of novel applied sciences, which inevitably result in a excessive startup price — it’s dearer to start out and keep a vertical farm than a conventional one. 

Thankfully, the push for sustainability has led to heavy authorities help and investor spending within the trade.

Robust Investor Sentiment In The Subject

Based on Enterprise Singapore, Singapore startups managed to snag S$14 billion in investments in 2018. That determine represents an astounding 14-fold improve from slightly below a billion in 2012. 

For the reason that begin of the yr, investments of not less than $40 million from each private and non-private sources have been made into agri-food tech start-ups.

It’s evident that traders have seen a rising curiosity within the agri-foodtech sector, with Singapore’s state funding agency Temasek Holdings pumping in some S$6.86 billion into the sector over the previous 5 years. 

In September 2018, SEEDS Capital — the funding arm of Enterprise Singapore — known as for companions to co-invest in Singapore-based startups with disruptive agriculture and meals applied sciences. 

Simply final yr, an agri-foodtech enterprise capital AgFunder launched GROW Accelerator in Singapore, to offer a platform for startups on this trade to obtain extra help. 

Vandana Dhaul, Head of Operations at GROW Accelerator shared with Vulcan Submit that there was “a heightened shopper concentrate on the standard and traceability of meals consumed, translating to an rising demand for regionally produced, wholesome, and additive-free meals.”

The help from the Singaporean authorities has additionally lent a hand to those agri-foodtech startups in search of investments. 

In June 2020, Enterprise Singapore introduced that it had put aside greater than S$55 million to assist native agriculture and aquaculture firms develop. 

Vandana shared that GROW Accelerator has lately launched the GROW Affect Fund, and each funding made by the fund can be evaluated by “reference to Enterprise Singapore’s rules”.

agri-foodtech startups singapore funding
Funding rounds in 2020 for agri-foodtech startups in Singapore / Picture Credit score: Vulcan Submit

The wealth of help on this trade exhibits that the agri-foodtech scene undoubtedly sees a number of alternative for development.  

The Woes That Come With Sustainability 

singapore vertical farming
Picture Credit score: Skygreens

Regardless of elevated curiosity and investments, the agri-food tech startups do have a fair proportion of challenges to navigate. 

Harnessing expertise to drive manufacturing at a scale the place it may possibly make the merchandise’ value aggressive with native imports is a hurdle in itself. 

Raavee shared that primarily based on their market analysis, native recent produce is presently priced at 1.5 to 5 occasions greater than these which might be imported from Malaysia. 

Sherman wholly agrees with this sentiment. He shared that new applied sciences in farming would have vital prices at an early stage, and it will “take awhile” earlier than companies can scale sufficiently to deliver prices down. 

“The query is whether or not these high-tech farms can maintain lengthy sufficient,” he stated.  

It will make it tough for customers to return onboard and help native agritech firms, particularly when Singapore nonetheless has a myriad of cheaper choices out there available in the market. 

The training of customers and potential traders can also be one other vital problem. Based on Sherman, “the meals trade has historically depended very a lot on expertise and passed-down information.”

Novel components utilized by foodtech startups “want some introduction to enhance their uptake and acceptance”.

Moreover, many customers are nonetheless closely skeptical about consuming lab-grown or various protein merchandise. Some customers would possibly nonetheless exhibit a component of suspicion in direction of genetically modified meals, and much more so for lab-grown meals. 

“I attempt to not eat genetically modified meals as we aren’t too certain what the detrimental results of those meals on the human physique is like,” stated 55-year-old Sharon Lee. 

Different customers is perhaps extra value delicate. Jason Tan, 28, stated that he would buy locally-grown vegatables and fruits in the event that they had been priced the identical, or are cheaper than imports. 

30 By 30: An Bold Stance?

singapore 30 by 30 supermarket
Picture Credit score: SBR

30 by 30 is little doubt a particularly bold aim for Singapore — almost tripling Singapore’s native meals manufacturing in 10 years looks as if a frightening activity.

The nation has made leaps and bounds up to now few years, with extra agri-food tech startups popping up throughout the island, and big investor and authorities help within the trade. 

Raavee holds an optimistic view on this aim and takes inspiration from Singapore’s ‘water story’.

“10 years in the past, if we had been to be advised that supplying the majority of Singapore’s water consumption goes to be achieved by native efforts, that concentrate on would have appeared unrealistic. However quick ahead to 2020, that is already a actuality,” he stated. 

He believes that the federal government has already put in robust help into this space, and there can be much more within the years to return. 

It’s particular that extra help must be given to startups to harness the expertise, and have an infrastructure in place to create a well-versed city farming and meals manufacturing trade. 

As Sherman aptly places it, the federal government has to play an lively position in defraying land rental prices, utilities, and different spending to help these startups in turning into a sustainable enterprise. 

Most significantly, Singaporean customers should be on board with the concept of buying native, as stated by Minister Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Setting and Water Assets.

And not using a robust demand for regionally sourced and produced meals, a lot of the efforts can be for naught. 

“Given the city-state’s bodily limitations – with extraordinarily little in the way in which of conventional agricultural land, this 30 by 30 imaginative and prescient will solely be achieved by enhancing conventional manufacturing strategies with trendy expertise,” stated Vandana. 

Featured Picture Credit score: Enterprise Singapore

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