SINGAPORE - Getting food businesses to find new revenue streams and grooming home-grown brands that can go regional will be among the targets that a refreshed road map for the food services scene aims to achieve in the coming years.
The Food Services Industry Transformation Map 2025 was announced by Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong on Thursday morning (May 19) at Restaurant Asia 2022, a three-day food and beverage symposium and trade show at Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
"As we emerge from the pandemic, it is critical for the food services sector to reposition itself to seize new opportunities, and adopt solutions to future-proof operations," said Mr Gan on Thursday, the first day of the event.
Put together in partnership with the industry, unions and other government agencies, the Industry Transformation Map (ITM), launched in 2016, had focused largely on digitalisation and the adoption of manpower-lean business formats and technology to improve productivity and reduce reliance on manpower.
The 2025 refreshed road map focuses on helping businesses in the sector innovate, expand and reposition themselves to tap emerging consumer trends, as well as build a local talent pool for new job roles in the sector.
Over the past two years, the food services sector has battled waves of disruptions due to Covid-19, and despite that, many have continued to press on, and transform their operations, noted Mr Gan. Many have also joined food delivery platforms, adopted digital and automation solutions, and diversified into new revenue streams.
The food services industry contributed $4 billion to Singapore's economy and employed about 220,300 workers in 2021, according to data from Enterprise Singapore (Enterprise SG).
Now, the refreshed industry transformation map has plans to foster an innovative and resilient food services sector with a bedrock of home-grown regional brands.
Mr Gan said: "The Food Services ITM 2025 will focus on catalysing innovation among enterprises to create new revenue streams, and empower ready and able food services companies to internationalise and capture new growth."
He added: "We will also press on with efforts on the productivity, jobs and skills front." The minister outlined four major strategies the road map will adopt.
The first thrust involves helping companies adopt bite-size and cost-effective digital and automation solutions to drive growth.
"With increasing competitive pressures and shifting consumer preferences, food services companies must continually transform and explore new operating models," Mr Gan said.
As companies grow in scale, they will be encouraged to leverage data to improve operations and customer engagement, said Enterprise SG.
The refreshed road map has an updated Food Services Industry Digital Plan, which will be launched later this year, to guide companies in using advanced technologies.
It will also help small and medium-sized enterprises in the industry to use tools such as those for data protection and cyber security to safeguard their businesses.
The second thrust involves catalysing innovation to drive new revenue streams and to tap consumer trends which are moving towards convenience, health and wellness, and sustainability.
Mr Gan cited companies that produced and commercialised ready-to-eat meals. These efforts paid off and helped them remain resilient to demand shocks, especially during the circuit breaker when dining in eateries was restricted, he said.
With sustainability emerging as a rising global trend, he added that it is pertinent for businesses to incorporate sustainability practices into their operating models. Companies can hence tap Enterprise SG's Enterprise Sustainability Programme to develop capabilities in this area.
Enterprise SG said the ITM will guide food services companies to improve their green branding to address the environmentally conscious consumer. It will support them in adopting sustainable solutions or incorporating sustainability practices in their operations, such as in food waste management.
The third thrust involves helping home-grown firms seize opportunities to expand globally as borders gradually reopen.
A curated market accelerator programme will be rolled out in the third quarter of this year to support companies in the sector making forays into new markets.
The programme will create a network for the sharing of knowledge and connect companies to potential partners, said Enterprise SG.
"For companies with existing overseas footprints, we will help them to strengthen their in-market networks and insights," said Mr Gan.
Support will also be given to companies that are looking into complementary operating models, such as cloud kitchens, so businesses can leverage the shift in consumer acceptance of food delivery during the pandemic. Cloud kitchens are typically set up for the purpose of preparing food for only delivery or takeout.
Enterprise SG will help companies with retail food products increase exports through partnerships with regional e-commerce platforms. These can serve as a market test bed before physical outlets are set up.
The fourth thrust under the ITM will map out strategies to lift wages, particularly among lower wage roles; reduce reliance on foreign workers; and create more quality jobs for locals.
Mr Gan acknowledged the increasing competition for manpower across all sectors.
He said: "It is therefore important for companies, as part of business transformation, to also invest in human capital and create quality jobs for locals. This will ensure that there is a pipeline of talent to support the sector's growth."
With new operating models and new ways of doing business in the sector, he said there will be exciting job opportunities, such as new roles, including digital marketing specialists and data analysts.
"To support the growing demand for these emerging job roles and skills, the Government will work with food services companies to develop and implement talent development programmes to groom locals to take on these jobs," he said.
Enterprise SG added that it will boost the local training ecosystem by nurturing partnerships between firms and training institutions, as well as via new career conversion programmes to support the training and placement of local workers.
"It is timely to refresh the Food Services ITM, since its launch in 2016, to better align with the needs of the industry amid these changes, so that Singapore can continue to develop a lively and innovative food services industry and provide good careers for locals," said Mr Andrew Kwan, president of the Restaurant Association of Singapore, which organised Restaurant Asia with Conference and Exhibition Management Services.
He noted that the pandemic provided a jump start to the industry’s adoption of the strategies in the ITM. For instance, F&B operators turned to contactless ordering and other digital solutions during the pandemic.
There were more than 7,000 applications for the Productivity Solutions Grants for IT solutions and equipment over the past 24 months. The figure is more than five times the number of applications in 2018 and 2019.
Assistant chief executive of Enterprise SG for lifestyle and consumer, food and agritech, Ms Dilys Boey, said: "We want to help food services companies capture the strong consumer demand locally and in the region, brought on by changing consumption patterns and trends in areas such as wellness and sustainability.
"To succeed in this highly competitive industry, we encourage companies to be bold and innovative in exploring new concepts and business formats."