A taste of future at upcoming coffee shops

Innovative dining formats, new payment options and automation a first step in transforming food industry

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam with Select Group managing director Vincent Tan, as DPM Tharman tries his hand at cooking with the conveyor steam oven.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam with Select Group managing director Vincent Tan, as DPM Tharman tries his hand at cooking with the conveyor steam oven. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY

A futuristic new breed of coffee shops - at the vanguard of a $4.5 billion nationwide IT transformation - could include features such as ordering via mobile apps or digital kiosks, and cashless payments.

Operators keen to meet the challenge of bringing in this type of innovation can bid in a tender for shops at two sites in Tampines and Choa Chu Kang later this month.

Interest could be strong but BreadTalk (Food Republic) and Auric Pacific (Food Junction) were yesterday unable to say yet if they would be in the running.

This is just the first step in the plan to transform the food industry - and 22 other key industries.

The Food Services Industry Transformation Map (ITM) was launched yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.

It is part of the Industry Transformation Programme announced in this year's Budget. The ITMs "lay out the growth and transformation strategies for the 23 key industries over the next five years... bringing together our initiatives for productivity, innovation, SkillsFuture and enterprise internationalisation for each industry", he said.

While the overseas-oriented sector has been doing well with high productivity growth, progress has been slow on the domestic front, including food services, he added.

These industries are split into six clusters. Food services fall under the lifestyle cluster whose oversight team will be jointly chaired by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Sim Ann and Select Group managing director Vincent Tan. Spring Singapore will be the lead agency for the cluster.

A pillar of the food services ITM - covering new-look coffee shops - is adopting innovative food formats.

By 2025, three out of eight dining experiences here will involve new formats, Spring estimates.

Ready-to-eat meals would be a viable option too, Mr Tharman noted. Last month, Singapore's first food vending machine cafe with ready meals was launched in Sengkang.


Improving productivity via adopting technologies is also key.

"We have to work on the basis that there will be no further manpower growth in the industry. The heavy reliance on low-skilled workers also cannot continue," he said.

To stay competitive, firms must "embrace change in both the front and back of the business - every way of reducing the manpower required". This could involve using digital services such as electronic payments, for example.

Spring and partners aim to see at least half the industry with technology-enabled operations by 2020.

This could make possible productivity growth of 2 per cent per year on average, from now till 2020, in the food services sector.

The agency yesterday unveiled time-limited grant support for initiatives in three areas - digital services, kitchen automation and automated dishwashing - till late 2018.

Other pillars of the ITM for the sector include deepening workers' skills and redesigning careers in the industry, and expanding the footprint of local food firms overseas.

The industry is a key employer, accounting for about 4.5 per cent of the total workforce - over 5 per cent if hawker centres are included. It also contributes to 0.8 per cent of Singapore's economic output.

But "we are running out of manpower in the industry... We must develop a food services industry that is highly efficient, with no loss in quality of food offerings, and with high-quality jobs. It has to be a major makeover", said Mr Tharman.

On why food services was the first ITM launch, Ms Sim told reporters: "Food is something that is very important, especially to Singaporeans. Food services is also an area in which many of our firms can potentially do very well...This is a very good example of a more domestically oriented sector in which innovation and transformation will bring about a very big difference to many stakeholders."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2016, with the headline 'A taste of future at upcoming coffee shops'. Print Edition | Subscribe