Asean F&B sector set to cook up a feast

Six S-E Asian nations ink MOU to form alliance, share ideas and best practices

Mr Chee Hong Tat (second from right) visiting the Indonesia Coffee Pavilion at Cafe Asia 2019, held alongside the Restaurant Asia 2019 expo.
Mr Chee Hong Tat (second from right) visiting the Indonesia Coffee Pavilion at Cafe Asia 2019, held alongside the Restaurant Asia 2019 expo.PHOTO: CONFERENCE & EXHIBITION MANAGEMENT SERVICES

Diners here can look forward to more innovative dining concepts from South-east Asia, as restaurant associations in the region come together to share their ideas and creations.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed yesterday by the restaurant associations from Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam to form the Asean Restaurant Associations Alliance.

The MOU will help the food and beverage (F&B) sector in Singapore and the other countries to expand into Asean markets, as well as promote the sharing of best practices and even the use of interesting ingredients or cooking methods.

They will also support each other's events and organise joint activities to benefit their members and create business relationships.

The MOU was signed at the inaugural Restaurant Asia 2019 expo held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

"With the common goal to promote development and excellence of the F&B community in Asean, the formation of this alliance signifies our determination, conviction and confidence to work together to propel the industry to greater heights," Mr Vincent Tan, president of the Restaurant Association of Singapore, said in a speech at the event.

The association has more than 400 members representing close to 700 brands and more than 3,600 food outlets here.

Mr Tan told The Straits Times: "With this MOU, we are able to further extend our network into Asean and encourage internationalisation for our members."

He said opportunities abound in the region due to Asean's growing population of about 650 million.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat said in his speech that productivity for the food service industry, measured by real value added per actual hour worked, has increased 1.4 per cent per annum in the past five years.

But he added that this is lower than the productivity in other service sectors such as retail trade, which recorded a 3.2 per cent per annum increase in the same period.

Mr Chee said the rapid growth in F&B establishments has outpaced demand, and the increased competition has squeezed profits and impacted productivity.

He added that F&B enterprises should go beyond technology to thrive, highlighting the MOU as an example.

"While we focus on cutting costs to improve productivity by reducing labour reliance, it is equally important to help our companies to achieve higher value-add and greater profitability by achieving larger scale," he said.

Mr Chee also pointed to the enhanced Productivity Solutions Grant that firms can tap as well. The grant includes a new subsidy to support 70 per cent of out-of-pocket cost for training, up to a maximum of $10,000 per firm.

Innovation in food industry

Some food and beverage enterprises here have leveraged technology to improve productivity, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat.

Others have shown creativity in differentiating their products. Here are some examples he gave:


The Taiwanese bubble tea chain uses digital kiosks for customers to place orders, freeing up employees to customise orders instead. This has helped the company reduce manpower by a third, contributing to 22 per cent growth in revenue.


Chef Chung Deming differentiates the Singapore-inspired food at the Tanjong Pagar restaurant by throwing in eclectic mixes such as foie gras and kaya toast, and a dessert called durian can-boleh (a play on creme brulee).


The food-service start-up uses data to forecast demand, allowing for more preparation time so that it can deliver islandwide in under 20 minutes. Through data analysis, the company revised its menu to meet customer needs and improved margins by over 50 per cent three months after using such technology.


The bakery gave a new spin to its dining experience by introducing unique themes at its different outlets. Its Dempsey Hill branch recently unveiled an African safari theme in line with nature in the area. The Tiong Bahru outlet was decked out in luxury retail brand Tiffany & Co's signature blue for about a week last year to make "Breakfast at Tiffany's" a reality.

Derek Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2019, with the headline 'Asean F&B sector set to cook up a feast'. Subscribe