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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Opening Ceremony for the SATS In-Flight Catering Centre 2 Expansion

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Opening Ceremony for the SATS In-Flight Catering Centre 2 Expansion

A very good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Today I am back here at SATS for the second time in as many years. It is a proud moment to come back here to see what you have done today. Let me start with a story to help you understand why I am so proud of what you have achieved today. 

Many years ago, SATS merged with Singapore Food Industry, When the merger was announced, the market panicked. The airline customers thought they were going to get army rations on board. The army folks thought that they were going to get airline portions for their meals. It might be funny, but that story captures the essence of what we need to do and the breakthroughs that we need to have. How do we provide affordable and quality food at the same time? In the past, if we have quality, it would not be affordable. If it was affordable, you would either not have quantity or quality. 

What we see today in SATS is actually an ongoing journey for us to reconcile this seeming contradiction between quality and affordability. I am happy to say that with all the improvements, we no longer have airline passengers fearing that they will get army rations nor army folks fearing that they will get airline portions. Instead, what we have today is something we can be very proud of. We are continuously striving, as an industry, as Singapore, to provide quality food at affordable prices for everyone. 

Today, I threw Alex, a good friend, another challenge. We have overcome the airline versus army paradox if you like. Our next challenge for Singapore is this –  can we deliver quality, tasty, Singapore-brand hawker food at affordable prices not just to the Singapore market but to the global market? What is that challenge? That challenge is can you have the same quality food, say chef Chan chicken rice or noodles, at a price point of say, less than $5 for a quality meal for the average consumer. Not just one or one thousand, but many thousands. Scale it at many thousands with the same quality and price point. That is the challenge. 

Last week at the Committee of Supply debate, you heard Senior Minister of State Koh Poh Koon, talking about an agri-food hub in Singapore. What are we trying to do? Why are we doing this? And more importantly, how can we do this? Moving forward, as Alex said, the demand for food will continue to increase with population needs. However, it is not just the demand of food that we are looking at. In fact, with a rising Asia and a growing middle-class, it is the demand for quality food at affordable prices that will increase. Singapore has a brand name in this; people trust our standards and our quality. People like our food. However, for us to get to that point whereby we can scale up our quality food at affordable prices, we need to get three things right. This is where MTI, other economic agencies and companies like SATS will continue to work very hard. 

First, we need to get the upstream sourcing right. This means the sourcing of quality products and the quality ingredients that we need to get into the food supply chain. We are developing the agri-hub because we want to get the upstream research and development right. It is not just about sourcing from around the world. We must have our own Intellectual Property (IP) and our own research so that we can produce the ingredients at affordable prices with quality assurance. What people call the Farm to Fork security and safety. So that is the upstream part and that work will need to start from agencies like A*STAR and the research institutes to make sure that we have some control and knowledge of the upstream processes.

The second part that we need to get right is like what Alex had mentioned, the technologies and processes that we have that can transform the ingredients into quality, affordable products. This is not just about the machines. In fact, the machines that you see today at SATS will soon be copied by many elsewhere. The machines are not our competitive advantage. But the IP behind the machine and behind the research that goes into product development is our competitive advantage. Even if others buy the machine, they cannot have the same quality and price point as us. So I am very happy to see what SATS has achieved, and I am sure that every time I come back to SATS, they will show me something new. 

There is a third part that is equally important in this entire food chain and that is our distribution network. Many people produce quality products but they do not have the distribution networks to ensure that the products arrive at consumers’ table in a timely manner, in a safe manner. This is where the SATS network, together with the rest of our supply chain network, needs to work seamlessly together to make sure that the quality product produced in this facility can reach the ends of the world at still affordable prices. 

If we can get these three parts right – the upstream sourcing, the midstream production and the downstream distribution – then I have every confidence that we can be the Netherlands of Asia. Nobody in Europe thought that the Netherlands would be the food hub for Europe and the world. It did not have the land, the manpower, all the traditional qualities that people associate with the food industry. But today, Netherlands is the food hub of Europe and they have done that with judicious investment in technologies, in manpower training and in systems thinking. This is the same kind of vision that we want to have in Singapore. 

With efforts like SATS’ and other partners in our food industry ecosystem, I have every confidence that in time to come, Singapore will not only be able to be much more self-sufficient in our food supply, but Singapore can be a food export hub for this region and beyond. We will be able to capture the growing market in Asia and the growing demand for quality and affordable food. So one day, we will win the challenge of having quality hawker centre fare at affordable prices, just as how we have reconciled the seemingly impossible demand to reconcile the supply of good and quality food to the army as well as providing good and quality food to airline customers.

I congratulate SATS for all your achievements but most importantly I look forward to your onward journey. You are a pioneer in the food industry, not just for the airline industry, but for Singapore. Your spirit of continuous innovation is the same spirit that we all must have in Singapore. Instead of just looking for quantum leaps in the big things that we do, it is also about making sure that we pay attention to the details for each and every small thing that we do. Each small improvement will add up to the big breakthrough that we want for the food industry, and for Singapore. So thank you very much for showing us the way and I wish you all the best in your onward journey to keep the Singapore flag flying high.  

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