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

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore saw several bouts of panic buying, with Singaporeans flocking to the supermarket to stock up on essential items.

However, this shone the spotlight on the issue of food security in Singapore.

According to the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), Singapore currently imports 90 per cent of food consumed in the country. A heavy reliance on imported food means that Singapore faces unique challenges in ensuring a steady supply of food for the population.
Furthermore, the island will be heavily impacted by any changes in the global food supply, including price fluctuations.
The problem has long been acknowledged, and Singapore aims to produce almost a third of the food that it requires by 2030. SFA has set a target – dubbed as 30 by 30 – of producing 30 percent of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030.

With the renewed interest in food security, the nation has seen a rise in agriculture technology (agritech) and food technology (foodtech) startups, as well as a wave of investor funding and government support in the area.
There is tremendous potential in agriculture and food technology, or agri-food tech for short.

Hoow Foods uses proprietary reformulation technology to make typically indulgent food such as ice cream healthy.

Agritech companies, on the other hand, are geared towards redesigning farming operations that no longer need to be constrained by space, climate, and manual labour.
Of course, there are overlaps as well.
Asia Insect Farm Solutions (AIFS) is one such startup that straddles the line between food and agritech.

It is in the midst of building Asia’s first mechanised and fully-automated urban cricket production facility to acclimatise and rear crickets at industrial scale to convert to insect-based proteins.
Raavee Shanker, CEO and co-founder of AIFS told Vulcan Post that the global edible insects market is forecasted to reach US$1.3 billion (S$1.78 billion) by 2023.
Both the foodtech and agritech industries are essential in boosting Singapore’s chances of achieving the 30 by 30 goal.
Over the past few years, there has been a notable wave of agri-food tech startups in Singapore, as seen in the above table.
“We can work from home, but we can never consume digital food,” he said.

Alchemy Foodtech has developed Alchemy Fibre, a proprietary product aimed at making carbohydrates healthier to target the burgeoning problem of diabetes in Singapore.
Hoow Foods also aims to emphasise on the “prevention” of diseases such as diabetes through food. The startup launched Callery’s low-calorie ice cream in 2018.
“We envision making an impact on consumer health through reformulation of conventional, familiar foods to make them much more healthy whilst retaining taste and texture,” said Sherman.

The startup tends to be associated with the group of foodtech companies that deal with alternative proteins and functional ingredients, since they utilise novel ingredients in their work.
According to Sherman, this segment now accounts for around a third of the foodtech market.

Foodtech startups like Alchemy Foodtech and Hoow Foods also make a case for “sustainable health”.

Sherman shared that “while a sustainable environment is important, the health of people should also be sustainable so that we can enjoy the environment and earth longer.”
Even though our environment has changed drastically, the way we consume food has remained largely the same throughout the years.

Likewise, Raavee of AIFS shared that the food we eat for daily sustenance have not evolved as much and “we still rely to a large extent on the same food types that our parents and grandparents did.”

The founder also questioned whether Singapore can continue on the same trajectory of importing food from over 170 countries, when these countries are becoming rapidly urbanised as well.

That was what led AIFS to see a unique and massive untapped opportunity for insect-based proteins to be a cost-effective, climate-resilient and resource-efficient solution for an urban community such as Singapore.
Besides novel food technologies and alternative p…
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