Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the Food Services Transformation Conference

Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the Food Services Transformation Conference

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


1. Good morning.

2. I am delighted to join you at this year’s Food Services Transformation Conference, organised by the Asian Culinary Institute Singapore (ACI), a Continuing Education and Training institute of Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). 


3. We will hear from the speakers later on how they have managed to surf the waves of disruption and seize new opportunities. Even though they come from different segments of the F&B sector, these successful companies all have one thing in common. They have adopted innovative ideas, such as new concepts or technological tools, to transform and improve themselves. As a result, they have been able to stay relevant and competitive.

4. The Wok People is a good example. It is a local catering company that serves hundreds of customers in its cafeteria during lunch hours. There used to be long queues as the cashiers had to manually key in customers’ dishes and collect payment. To improve efficiency, The Wok People implemented an integrated RFID system that allows the prices of food items to be calculated automatically as each plate passes through a scanner. Payments are also now made more quickly and conveniently through e-payments. These enhancements have led to increased customer satisfaction and payment accuracy. In addition, by reducing more than 80% of the manpower required to perform manual tasks such as handling cash payments, The Wok People was able to train its cafeteria staff to take on higher-level, multi-skilled job roles. These include providing good service to customers and employing data analytics for better inventory management and forecasting. This is a good example of how when you transform your business operations and processes, it is good for the company and for the workers. 

5. We are also seeing the increasing popularity of food delivery services. Many businesses, including hawker stalls, have joined food delivery platforms to reach out to a wider customer base. It is also more convenient for customers. It has also led to the emergence of virtual kitchens where companies can prepare food orders to be delivered directly to customers, without setting up a physical dining area. We see this not just in Singapore but also in other countries. It is a new way of meeting the dining needs of customers. Grain is an example of a delivery-only company that does not have a physical site that you can go to for dining. Grain has made use of the virtual kitchen concept to reduce its set-up and operational costs. Both its online restaurant and catering services are supported by a single central kitchen. Grain further differentiates itself by offering healthy meals to cater to growing consumer demand. Their philosophy is healthy meals can also taste great, and I think this gives customers the best of both worlds. By leveraging data analytics, the company also constantly refines its menu options in line with customers’ preferences. I am one of their customers and I like to order food from them. I am very pleased to see that every now and then they will introduce new menu options, so its part of their innovation to test out new food items to meet their customers’ needs. As a testament to its strong potential, Grain has recently raised US$10 million in a seed round led by Thailand’s Singha Ventures, which will facilitate its expansion into the regional market.  

6. I believe there are many of our business leaders here who have likewise tried out new ideas in your businesses, either to solve existing problems or capture new opportunities. I would like to encourage you to press on. Please keep this up.  


7. Training and skills development of workers are also important aspects of business transformation. This can bring about both immediate and long-term benefits such as increased productivity and enhanced employee engagement. I gave you the example of the Wok People, that has led to a win-win outcome. 

8. Workers need to be well-trained to implement a company’s transformation plans and deliver results. To ensure the successful implementation of the RFID system in its cafeteria, The Wok People supported more than 300 of its staff to undergo the SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace training conducted by ACI. Launched in 2017, the programme builds digital confidence and foundational skills in employees to help them embrace technological changes in their workplaces. I really want to appeal to employers that this process requires time, cos change requires time. Therefore your employees need time, and sometimes employers need time to adjust to these changes, but we are here to help you. The Government, through our agencies, such as SkillFuture Singapore and our Institutes of Higher Learning have ramped the series of SkillsFuture courses and relevant education and training courses, with the purposes of helping our employers and businesses. We know that change will take time and change will require some help along the way. We are here to help you. 

9. We have also introduced initiatives such as the Skills Framework and SkillsFuture Series to better equip our workers with the skills needed to meet the changing demands of the F&B sector. In support of the Food Services Industry Transformation Map, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), Workforce Singapore (WSG) and then-SPRING Singapore, now Enterprise Singapore, jointly developed the Skills Framework for Food Services. The Framework provides sector-specific information on existing and emerging skills and competencies, career pathways and relevant education and training programmes. Workers can use the Skills Framework as a guide to make informed choices on their career development and skills upgrading. The SkillsFuture Series curates industry-relevant courses in eight emerging skills areas such as tech-enabled services, data analytics and advanced manufacturing, for individuals to acquire or deepen their skills. I want to be quite clear that the Skills Framework applies to the whole industry, so it is a guide. You have to take it and apply to your specific needs within your company. The Skills Framework was done in consultation with the industry associations and companies, so we try to make it as relevant as possible to the industry, and we will update it from time to time to keep it relevant. There will certainly be areas where each company will have to customise it to meet its own specific needs. It is useful starting point as a guide to start off a conversation using the Skills Framework as a way to engage your employees, training providers and government agencies. You can use it as a tool, but you need to use it appropriately. It is not a secret recipe, it is more of a guide to help you to plan your training needs and career development needs. 

10. I am pleased that later today, ACI will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Informa Markets, the organiser of the Food&HotelAsia (FHA) event, to promote skills deepening and re-skilling for the Food Services industry. ACI and Informa Markets will collaborate in setting up a NYP Learning Studio at next year’s FHA to offer seminars and workshops in topics like food waste management, menu re-engineering and customer digital analytics.  


11. Transforming our businesses and levelling up our workers are important initiatives to strengthen the core capabilities of our businesses. This will put us in a strong position when venturing abroad to tap growth opportunities. Earlier I had the opportunity to speak to some of the business leaders, and what came through to me was that Singapore is a good market to be in because it is a market with high purchasing power. We have a very good customer segments, and we are cosmopolitan, but we also recognise that this is a market of around 5million. If you really want to scale up and grow your business, you have to look beyond Singapore, but use Singapore as a base and a Launchpad, to be the growth potential of the region. 

12. Singapore food businesses have a strong reputation for quality and safety. We have a trusted brand name. Our businesses can build on this advantage. Food safety is a key consideration in many parts of the world, and many consumers are willing to pay a premium for quality food with safety assurance. Enterprise Singapore (ESG) helps our companies expand overseas by providing internationalisation support through seminars, business missions, as well as platforms to help our businesses gain brand exposure overseas.

13. Last month, I attended the launch of the Taste of Singapore food pop-up event in Tokyo. Some of you were there and your products were there. We had pop-up stalls and food trucks. This was part of a series of pop-up events jointly organised by ESG and Singapore Tourism Board (STB) that will help companies introduce their products to overseas markets such as Tokyo, Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta. About 60 local lifestyle and consumer companies will benefit from the opportunity to test consumer receptiveness of their products, build business connections, and develop an understanding of the regulatory and operating environment. In the case of Japan for example, we learnt that there are certain things that we are not allowed to bring in, such as benzoic acid, and some ingredients that are not allowed. We learn along the way, adapt, find other ways, and work with the authorities so that over time so that over time they can allow more and more products. It is part of the learning and discovery process for our agencies and our businesses. We hope this will help our companies accelerate their market entry process and bring our delicious food products overseas. I am also trying to see if we are able to use tourism as a way to boost demand. If tourists come to Singapore, they try some of our food products and they like it, they will bring it back with them. I have seen how they have brought back bags of salted egg fishskin on board the airplane. This shows the popularity of our food products. They try the food products and bring it back with them. This is also a way of advertising our products as they bring it back to their friends and relatives. Hopefully over time, this will create a demand for Singapore food products. Through e-commerce, we are able to create new market opportunities and enlarge the range of possibilities for our companies. 


14. In addition to supporting our companies in their expansion overseas, we must also look internally at our regulatory processes in order to create a pro-enterprise environment that helps our businesses thrive. We do so through the Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP) under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, which proactively seeks out feedback from businesses to review and streamline our rules and regulations, so that we help businesses to reduce compliance costs; support new innovation and provide more opportunities for local companies to demonstrate their capabilities and scale up. 

15. Previously, business owners like yourselves could be faced with up to 14 touch-points with government agencies when you want to set up a F&B outlet. Yesterday, the GoBusiness Licensing Portal has started operating. With this, we are making it simpler, better, and faster for companies to apply for food-related licenses. Using the Food Services Guided Journey function within the Portal, the number of touch-point for food-related license applications is reduced from 14 to one. The number of data fields required has been reduced from up to 845 to less than 100. We also streamlined and re-engineered the processes, so that the entire process can be shortened by up to 14 days and businesses can save more than $500 in total license fees. All this is done through process re-engineering and in partnerships with our companies and Trade Associations & Chambers (TACs) – Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS), Association of Catering Professional Singapore (ACAPS). They have given us very good feedback to fine-tune the beta version of our systems, to find out where the pain points in our regulations and rules. We work with our agencies, in this case, GovTech, Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and also our respective agencies, to streamline process to make it simpler, better and faster.  

16. Today, I am happy to announce two additional new regulatory changes for the Food Services Sector.

17. First, Joint pre-licensing inspection by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA). Many F&B businesses currently have to arrange for pre-licensing inspections individually with different licensing agencies, which can be a time-consuming process. Before starting its operations, a business will require an SFA inspection prior to receiving its food shop license. If the shop carries more than 200kg of petroleum and flammable materials, an SCDF inspection is also required. It can be challenging to secure a common time slot for business owners and the inspectors to meet. Setting up two separate appointments is even more difficult, and this has inadvertently caused delays and inconvenience to business owners. 

18. I am pleased to announce that, starting from today, F&B businesses which require both SCDF and SFA’s licenses can request for a joint inspection to be conducted for their F&B outlets at a common time slot. You do not need to arrange for separate inspections and can start operating your business earlier, with a time saving of up to 3 weeks. This will also halve the number of government agency touchpoints for F&B businesses, from six to three. This is one of the announcements and I welcome your feedback on whether we can further improve it and whether there are ways that we can do better. For example, yesterday I was given this feedback from one of the business owners to have one inspector, one agency to do some of the inspection on behalf of another agency, so that you do not even need two separate inspectors, you just need one. Hopefully that will reduce the time and cost for everybody, including agencies. This is something which I am keen to look into. I do not have a firm plan. This is just sharing with you the feedback that I have received, but I think it is a good idea that we can consider. It may not be applicable to all sectors, because in some areas we still need specialised inspectors to do the inspection. However in areas that we are able to, because as a Government, we also want to improve our processes and efficiency. If we can do this, we reduce our cost and resources to do the inspection because we are able to share some of the resources amongst the agencies. From the business point of view, we save time and save cost. 

19. The other regulatory improvement I would like to share with you is the auto-renewal and extension of Halal certification issued by MUIS. Companies with good track records are now eligible for auto-renewal of Halal certification. Eligible companies need not go through the full application process each time their Halal certification is due to expire. In addition, companies can apply to extend the validity of their Halal certifications of all schemes from one year to two years. These changes are expected to save each company at least 16 man-hours for each application cycle, resulting in an aggregate saving of 74,000 man-hours per annum. Businesses can also avoid unnecessary lapses in their halal certification, which is a win-win outcome for MUIS and the industry. We are discussing with MUIS on the possibility of reducing the 2-year license fee quantum, to share cost savings from the process review with the applicants.

20. I would like to thank colleagues from SFA, SCDF and MUIS for their strong support in working with the PEP on these changes, and compliment them for being open to new ideas and suggestions. We started this process because we received feedback from companies. Some of you may recall I met you at various dialogue sessions such as at through the Singapore Business Federation and Singapore Chamber of Commerce. ASME, USME. We conducted of these sessions, and we get feedback from our business leaders, and feedback on the pain points and areas that we can do better. We take the feedback, assess it, and see what we are able to do. Through PEP, we act as an internal advocate within government for businesses. We then go to talk to our regulatory agencies to see how we can improve process and streamline regulations, with the objective of how we can reduce compliance cost and provide more opportunities for businesses. It is not an easy process as we have to convince them, but it is worth a try. If we do not try, our success rate is zero, if we try and even if I succeed with half the number of cases, at least I help some of the companies. This is the process that we have been doing, and I hope to continue doing with your support. I also want to thank our regulatory agencies for their support because it is also very important. The support from our regulatory agencies is very critical to achieving our goal of having a pro-enterprise regulatory and licensing regime in Singapore. I encourage all our regulatory agencies to work closely with PEP and our industry partners, so that we can find innovative ways to reduce compliance costs for businesses while safeguarding public interests and meeting our regulatory objectives. This is an important part of Public Service Transformation, to make the public service future ready. Some of our rules may be drafted many years ago and may no longer be relevant given the changes in technology and business models. Some of the rules that we have may be streamlined. Importantly, staying open to new  ideas, and being flexible to accommodate new business models is an important part of supporting innovation. 

21. We also look forward to working with our business community to proactively obtain your feedback to review our regulatory processes and ensure they are business friendly. Every improvement counts. Each time we simplify a rule or shorten a step in the process, we make it easier and less costly for our companies to operate. And these efforts also support the growth of new business models and innovative ideas from our enterprises. We want to work with you to review and enhance government rules and regulations, so that we can create a pro-enterprise eco-system together.  


22. In closing, I would like to thank the ACI for organising this conference, and I wish everyone a fruitful day ahead. Thank you.

Contact Us Feedback