Singapore Pavilion on Alibaba's Tmall helps access China market

Local food manufacturers looking to expand into China will now have an easier time with the help of a new initiative by IE Singapore and the Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association (SFMA).

Dubbed "Singapore Pavilion", it is an online store on Alibaba's Tmall, a major Chinese website for business-to-consumer online retail.

The initiative will "provide companies with a plug-and-play model, so they can export their products to China more quickly and easily", said Ms Liane Ong, IE Singapore's China group director.

The trade agency said it sees e-commerce as an "important retail channel for Singapore companies to access the huge China market".

Ms Ong added that the Singapore brand commands a premium in China, amid rising affluence of Chinese consumers and food safety concerns.

Despite this, companies wanting to export to China have always faced obstacles, with issues such as product registration and marketing to consumers being key problems, according to Mr Chong Ka Wee, chief executive of Kino Biotech, which owns proprietary brand Kinohimitsu.

Kino Biotech is one of 45 firms to have signed up under Singapore Pavilion to sell its products and that has helped it save time and cut costs.

"Normally, for product registration, you would have to go through processes like changing your labelling to adhere to the local regulations," Mr Chong said. "All these processes can take up to 15 months.

"Selling through a cross-border e-commerce platform, the product registration process can be simplified and shortened to just one month. The best part is that you can use the existing product labelling and original packaging."

Mr Thomas Pek, president of SFMA, said that under the initiative, companies would have to pay an initial deposit of $10,000, and then just $300 a month.

A single company trying to get online space in Tmall would usually have to pay around $300,000 per year.

For Mr Chong, an added benefit of joining Singapore Pavilion is getting to raise awareness of the firm's products as part of a stronger Singapore brand along with those in the industry, and the feedback from Chinese consumers will be valuable in deciding how to expand in China.

"We may be competitors in Singapore but we can form an alliance overseas as part of the Singapore brand and capture market share together."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore Pavilion on Alibaba's Tmall helps access China market'. Print Edition | Subscribe