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27 Apr 2018 Updated 13 Dec 2018

Initiative to drive innovation in food sector

The Straits Times Linette Lai

FoodInnovate will equip firms with the knowledge and resources to create food for the future: Heng

A new government initiative to help local food companies adapt to industry disruptions will tap the expertise of larger corporations, food science experts and industry associations. 

FoodInnovate will be led by Enterprise Singapore and involve other government agencies, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who launched it yesterday. 

Mr Heng said that companies may often see the need to innovate, but be hampered by "high cost, limited access to food technologies and expertise, as well as regulatory hurdles." 

FoodInnovate aims to mitigate these problems by equipping companies with "the knowledge and resources to create food for the future". he added. 

Mr Heng was speaking at the Food Industry Asia Food for the Future Summit held yesterday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. 

The summit brought together big names in the food industry - such as Coca-Cola, Danone and Unilever - to discuss issues affecting the industry's future. 

These include the challenge of producing food for a growing population despite limited natural resources, and how climate change and increasing urbanization will impact the industry. 

FoodInnovate will equip firms with knowledge about food science and the market, and give them access to the physical infrastructure needed to adopt new technologies. 

It will also build a base for agri-food start-ups here, ensure that the government regulations support innovation, and create platforms for the "cross-pollination" of ideas. 

Last year, the food manufacturing industry was worth $4.3 billion or about 1.1 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product. 

It employed more than 48,000 workers. 

"For a country with no extensive land or agricultural resources, this is a commendable base for us to build on and grow," Mr Heng said. 

He recounted an encounter with the food industry leaders years ago, when he was a young civil servant. They had taken offence when a senior economic planner told them that they were in a "sunset industry". 

They told me: 'There is no sunset industry; only sunset thinking'." Mr Heng said, stressing the importance of innovation. "That quote has stayed with me". 

Mr Ehab Abou-Oaf, who is Mars Wrigley Confectionery's regional president for Asia-Australia, Middle East and Africa, said that the time has come for food manufacturers to collaborate and innovate, no matter how big they are. 

"Singapore is settling a platform to help companies to work together," he said. 

"It could become a think-tank for Asean and the rest of Asia." 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.