1. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me here. First let me congratulate the Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association (SFMA) for doing all the work behind the scenes to rally the people in the food manufacturing industry to do well not just for themselves but also the whole industry and Singapore.
2. I started a conversation just now with three very simple questions, which are essentially the three points I'm going to make today. First, what is Singaporeans’ favourite past time, and they told me that is eating. Second, whether a Singapore market is big enough – and everyone shook their head. They think that the Singapore market is too small. And the last question was what distinguishes Singapore’s food from the rest of the world. They told me about quality, safety, variety and so forth. Those are essentially the points that I would like to share with you.
3. Singapore has a rich cultural tradition and great diversity of food. This is something that makes us stand out. The food in Singapore is not just diverse but very often we also find a cross-pollination of ideas from different food types, and that creates something that is unique to Singapore. This is something that we should hold dear to our hearts because when we talk about competing with other people, other industries and other countries, we need to understand what makes us stand out. And the first thing that stands out from the Singapore food story is our ability to cross pollinate ideas to create new food items, new dishes from our different traditional sources. This is not something that is common in other countries. In fact, in many other countries, they pride themselves on traditional food and keep to the tradition – and there is a strength in that. But in Singapore, since we don't have so much tradition, we are constantly creating something new. And that speaks to the first point, which is innovation. We constantly innovate, constantly try out new things to try to penetrate new markets and also cater to the changing taste of our people. This is something that is very important.
4 That is why this afternoon, I am very happy to see FoodInnovate working with IncuBaker to launch the Snack Genius Competition. It may sound like a simple competition – trying to create a new type of snack that is healthier, tastier, and that can reach out to the rest of the market. It is all these little small efforts that will contribute to making Singapore an exciting place for food. So the first characteristic is our innovation.
5. And the answer to the second question about us being a market that is too small has to do with internationalisation. This is where Enterprise Singapore (ESG) together with SFMA would like to help our food companies to penetrate overseas markets. For us to achieve economies of scale, production scale, we need to have the overseas market in mind. But that is easier said than done. Many of you have paid high tuition fees going overseas – sometimes with good returns; sometimes with not so good returns. And this is something that we think we can do better by sharing the knowledge with each other. All of us will need to pay tuition fees when we go overseas. But all of us don’t have to pay the same tuition fees to the same people by re-learning the lessons. This is where SFMA and ESG can come together and share the knowledge that we have learned going overseas – learn about the characteristics, learn about other regulatory systems, so that subsequent batches of companies that are going overseas can benefit from those who have walked before us.
6. There is a lot of work that we still need to do in this area to help our companies to penetrate the overseas market, even the regional markets, and we will need to spend the time and effort to understand other people's taste, distribution channels and regulatory channels. This is where Singapore Food Agency (SFA) can also play a part in helping us reach out to our overseas counterparts. Because when MTI goes around to discuss about Free Trade Agreements with other countries, we don't just talk about the tariffs and the reduction of tariffs. We also talk about the non-tariffs. By lowering the non-tariff barriers, we can help our food industries penetrate overseas markets.
Quality and Standards
7. Last but not least, is the most important point. Singapore’s food, no matter how hard we try, it will be very difficult for us to compete with other people on the basis of price and scale. Because we will never be as big or as cheap as other people in many other places. But we are not about to compete just on price and scale. Instead, we compete on the basis of innovation, quality and standards. This is increasingly important.
8. Why is it that many food joints in Changi Airport have such good sales? It is not because every Singaporean goes to Changi Airport to buy them. When people come to Singapore, when people come through Singapore, they stock up on the medicine, food and so forth. That is because we have a brand of trust. When people buy things from Singapore, they see the little red Merlion and they know that it is a mark that they can trust. This is something that we should treasure because this is something that cannot be achieved by individual companies. It is a collective responsibility of each and every one of us in Singapore to continue to build up this brand. Collectively when we have this brand, we will be able to command a premium on the global market.
9. We all know this. When we go overseas and when we are hungry, we will not just look for any food. We look for safe and quality food. And I must say that we all know that Singapore has this brand. This is where we, again, need to work together with SFA, ESG and SFMA, for us to come together to make sure that we continue to uphold the high standards that we have achieved over all these years. If we will continue to innovate, create new products constantly from the cross-pollination of ideas across the different food traditions that we have, we will stand up amongst the crowd. If we do not just focus on the local market, but always have an eye on the overseas market, and if we can work together, we will be able to penetrate the overseas market as a team, and whatever lessons that we have learned we can share with the rest of the people.
10. Last but not least, most importantly, we must maintain our quality brand and brand of trust, such that whenever we see that little Merlion logo, it commands a premium because it is a brand of trust. So congratulations SFMA for walking this journey for 20 over years. We look forward to 20 more years, and many more 20 more years to come, because your effort helps Singapore, helps our industry to put ourselves on the global map as a trusted partner when it comes to food. When we look at Asia, with the growing middle class, the growing demand for food and high quality food, the future is definitely bright for the food industry. The challenge for us now is whether we can work together, achieve those high standards, continue to innovate, and always look at the world as our market. If we can do all these three things together, I'm very confident SFMA will lead our food industry to even greater heights. Congratulations and thank you very much.
31 MAY 2019