Food and beverage to Singapore
Trends and opportunities
In Singapore, eating is often described as a national pastime, and food, a national obsession. It is not surprising that the food and beverage (F&B) landscape is an exciting and vibrant one, and representative of the country’s ethnic diversity. It is a confluence of Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Peranakan and Western traditions.
With one of the highest per capita growth domestic product (GDP) in the world (S$ 72,711 per person in 2015), Singapore’s per capita food consumption level is the highest in the region. (Source: Department of Statistics, Gross Domestic Product, 23 April 2015 and Business Monitor International, Singapore Food & Drink Report, Fourth Quarter 2016). With an affluent and sophisticated consumer base, Singapore is a well-established market for Australian F&B products and produce.
Singapore is reliant on food imports for over 90 per cent of its needs, having very little agricultural land and limited domestic food production. Less than one per cent of the land area is used for agricultural purposes. Singapore imported over S$11.25 billion in food and live animals and S$3.23 billion in beverages in 2015. Malaysia, Indonesia, United States, Australia and China are Singapore’s main suppliers of food. (Source: IE Singapore, Singapore’s Annual Import of Food & Live Animals and Beverages, 28 March 2016). In 2015, Singapore was Australia’s ninth largest market for food, beverage and agribusiness products, with total exports valued at A$1.1 billion.
The most valued product categories are:
- animal fats (bovine, sheep or goat): A$263 million
- dairy: A$263 million
- red meats: A$149 million
- sugars and sugar confectionery: A$64 million
- pork: A$48 million
- molluscs and crustaceans: A$29 million
- wheat and meslin: A$34.5 million
- grapes: A$17 million
- Citrus: A$13 million
- malt: A$12 million.
Singapore was also the seven largest export market in 2015 for Australian wines valued at A$49million.
(Source: Global Trade Atlas, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 19 September 2016)
Singapore’s F&B industry can be divided into three broad segments – food retail, food service and food processing.
Singapore’s grocery retail sector, which is dominated by supermarket chains, is highly developed and competitive. Consumers are discerning and make shopping decisions based on product quality, freshness, nutrition value, taste and food safety concerns, in addition to price.
Consumers generally look for quality products, which provide good value for money. However, for products with clear benefits, such as nutrition or quality, consumers are willing to pay a bit more. Premiumisation, food accountability and urbanisation are key factors, which impact food consumption trends. Government policy and campaigns around food and health issues are also drivers within the market.
The presence of a large expatriate population impacts buying trends and consumption. There is a strong awareness for Australian products and produce, which are recognised as ‘clean and green’ and safe. They enjoy a reputable position in the market. A handful of speciality retail stores, which carry premium products, cater to the high-end of the market and constitute a niche market.
Singapore has a thriving and constantly evolving food service sector, which is susceptible to the state of the economy. A steady stream of international visitors and the propensity of local residents to eat out keep the food service sector in Singapore vibrant. The National Nutrition Survey 2010 showed that 60 per cent of residents eat out at least four times a week (Source: Singapore Health Promotion Board).
The opening of the two integrated resorts - Marina Bay Sands and Resort World Sentosa - in 2010 provided an additional impetus to the sector with the opening of new upscale restaurants and the foray of many world-renowned celebrity chefs into Singapore.
Outside the hotel industry, the F&B services industry comprises of about 6,860 establishments, including restaurants, cafes, snack bars, food courts, fast food restaurants, food caterers, etc. (Source: Department of Statistic updated 26 November 2014).
Singapore’s food processing sector is small but efficient, with value-added food production making up a significant proportion. Given the limited agricultural resources the sector is dependent on imports for ingredients and raw materials.
As a market, Singapore is restricted by a relatively small domestic market, compared to other Asian countries. The location and trading hub status make it a strategic and extremely important market for exporters.
There is a strong awareness for Australian products and produce, which are recognised as ‘clean and green’ and safe.
In recent years, there has been a high-level of consciousness around food safety and health among consumers. Some western chefs are promoting the use of sustainable food supply, particularly seafood. However, while there is a growing awareness of sustainability and sustainable products, it is not something for which end consumers are currently willing to pay more for.
Demographic factors such as an ageing population and an increasing number of women in the work force has shifted food consumption trends towards convenience foods, ready-to-cook meals and dining out. There is market interest for the following product categories:
- convenience foods
- functional foods
- healthier options (e.g. low fat, low salt, sugar free, natural, etc.)
- organic foods
- private label
- processed foods
- quality meats
- value-added products (e.g. ready-to-eat /cook).
Not all of the imported food is consumed locally. Regional markets look to Singapore for trends and quality standards, with nearly 20 to 25 per cent of all food imported being re-exported to the region and beyond. For select product categories the percentage is much higher. (Source: IE Singapore, Singapore’s Annual Re-export of Food & Live Animals, 28 March 2016).
Singapore is home to the regional headquarters of several global companies and has a large base of commodity traders, who channel products to different markets around the region. As ASEAN continues to grow economically, Singapore’s strong trading links and logistical capacity will ensure it remains a major trading and distribution hub.
Singapore has a highly developed open and trade-oriented market economy, due to relatively easy market access and minimal trade barriers. There are a large number of global players aggressively competing for market share. Quality products are often competing on price. For certain product categories (such as wine) the market is extremely fragmented, with a disproportionately large number of players competing for a relatively small market.
In 2015, Australia was the fourth largest food exporting country to Singapore, after Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States. Other major food supplying nations include China, Thailand, New Zealand, Brazil, Vietnam, India, Netherlands, Japan, France, Ghana, Germany, Italy and Taiwan. Australia’s competitive edge lies in:
- strong brand recognition and position (‘clean and green’ reputation and high food safety standards)
- high level of familiarity with Australia among consumers
- similar time zone
- ability to supply counter-season to northern hemisphere.
- connectivity between Australia and Singapore (strong bilateral relationship and strong sea and air links).
Tariffs, regulations and customs
Dutiable goods in Singapore consist of the following four broad categories:
- intoxicating liquors
- tobacco products
- motor vehicles
- petroleum products.
All other goods are non-dutiable. Singapore has no applicable tariffs or duties on food and most beverage products. Alcoholic beverages (including wines) attract an excise duty, which is based on the product code and alcoholic content of the product e.g. wines attract an excise duty of S$88.00 per litre of alcohol. For the list of dutiable goods and the respective duty rates imposed on the goods, visit the Singapore Customs website.
Under Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) Australian beers, which satisfy the Rules of Origin requirements, no longer attract the customs duty of S$16.00 per litre of alcohol. However, the excise duty of S$60.00 per litre of alcohol is still applicable.
All goods imported into or manufactured in Singapore are subjected to seven per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) and is applied on an ad valorem basis on all dutiable and non-dutiable goods. The GST taxable is calculated based on the Costs, Insurance and Freight (CIF) value plus all duties and other chargeable costs, whether or not shown on the invoice. Duties and GST may be suspended up to the point of consumption if they are imported or manufactured under the various Customs schemes.
Food regulations/industry standards
The Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) is the Singapore national authority, which ensures that food available in Singapore, both imported and locally manufactured, is safe for consumption. AVA is responsible for the supply of safe food and to safeguard the health of animals and plants and facilitates agri-trade for the well-being of the nation.
More information is available on the legislations under AVA including the Sale of Food Act, which includes the Singapore Food Regulations.
Visit AVA’s commercial food imports or search the import conditions database for import conditions on any product of interest. The responsibility to ensure that food imported into Singapore is safe and meets all local regulations lies with the local importer.
Singapore Food Regulations require all pre-packed food products for sale to be labelled according to the requirements specified. For information, visit labelling guidelines for food importers and manufacturers. An online guide to food labelling and advertisements (PDF) is available as an easy reference. This acts as a step-by-step guide to self-check food labels and advertisements.
Nutrient, health and other claims
Information on nutritional labelling guidelines, visit the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) a Handbook on Nutrition Labelling (Singapore). To find out specific requirements for making any nutrition claims on food products, visit the online vitamins and nutrients calculator.
For information, visit the food additives permitted under the Singapore food regulations (PDF) or food additives search for a list of food additives permitted under the Singapore food regulations.
A list of Chinese medicinal materials commonly used in food or refer to the Chinese medicinal materials search.
Health products & special food products
For information on how products are classified, visit the general classification of food and health products classification tree. Some processed food products are classified as high-risk and require additional documents such as health certificates and/or laboratory analysis reports, which need to be submitted prior to import, when the importer applies for a cargo clearance permit. For more information, refer to import requirements of specific food products.
Marketing your products and services
Finding the right partner to distribute or represent your product is key to success in this market. Companies may consider the following:
- Visit the market before exporting to understand the market, supply chain and pricing better.
- Select a committed importer/distributor (or agent) and work towards building a long-term relationship in order to build market share.
- Consider the use of a qualified export packer or consolidator to export, if your volumes are too small to sell directly to an overseas importer or buyer.
- Join forces with a producers’ association or relevant industry body for collective export marketing and logistics.
- Attending or participating in an international trade show is another way of marketing your products. Food and Hotel Asia is the most important food show in this region.
- Promotion and brand building, including use of product promoters and marketing emphasis should be on quality.
- Create innovative products and attractive packaging.
- Quality, appearance, colour and freshness of product are very important.
- Emphasis on points of differentiation and value proposition of the product; communicate the same effectively.
- Set up your own representative office in the market, to build and strengthen customer networks.
- It is best to work with one dedicated partner, given the small size of the market.
Many F&B products are channelled through local importer/distributors, who distribute these products to the food retail and/or food service platforms.
The main supermarket chains may obtain products via direct import or through local distributors or agents. Wherever possible these chains by-pass the middlemen and import directly, especially for selected large volume product lines, which have long shelf-lives. Supermarkets are also effectively using appointed consolidators in specific countries including Australia for their own sourcing requirements, to broaden the range and variety of products available to their customers. These are usually smaller volume, niche products. Typically, retailers will want suppliers to pay for some promotion and may set trial periods for products to test their potential.
Many of the major importer/distributors and main supermarket chains have their own large warehousing facilities to handle perishable goods, re-packing and distribution.
It is usually rare for food service companies, like hotels and restaurant groups, to import products themselves. They mostly depend on the local importer-distributor base for their needs. Some of the large food processing companies import ingredients and raw materials directly. Distribution to wet markets, hawkers, small grocery and neighbourhood stores is usually handled by a number of intermediary provision wholesalers.
Leveraging on its advantageous geographical location, Singapore has become one of the world’s top transportation hubs for sea and air cargo. The container ports are the busiest in the world, offering a choice of 200 shipping lines with links to some 600 ports in 123 countries. Singapore’s Changi International Airport is linked to some 280 cities in 60 countries, with about 6900 weekly flights, providing convenience and effective connectivity for both passengers and cargo.
The Changi Airfreight Centre is a 24 hour, one-stop hub for the storing, moving and repackaging of goods without the need for documentation and custom duties, bringing some 6000 logistics providers to the country, including 20 of the world's top 25 global logistics players. Businesses here have the necessary land, air, sea and telecommunications linkages necessary to move freight and services anywhere in the world, whenever they are needed (Source: Singapore Economic Development Board, Connected, 4 June, 2014)
As the global transportation hub with the most extensive and comprehensive network of trade agreements in Asia, Singapore’s unparalleled connectivity and infrastructure paves the way for better market access and trade flows for both local and international companies.
Links and industry contacts
Agri-food Veterinary Authority of Singapore
Health Promotion Board
Local supermarket chains
Cold Storage (Part of Dairy Farm group)
Giant (Part of Dairy Farm group)
Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association
Food and Hotel Asia
Wines and Spirit Asia
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