New online platform helps local food brands grow reach

Mr John Cheng founded Food Culture Singapore, which launched on National Day with about 30 brands. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new online e-commerce platform has been launched to showcase local food brands and help lesser-known food start-ups reach a wider market, both in Singapore and globally.

Food Culture Singapore, which launched on National Day with about 30 brands, plans to grow to at least 100 brands by the end of the year.

Consumers can buy products from these brands on the website.

Founder John Cheng, who is also the director of his family's sugar manufacturing business Cheng Yew Heng, said the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a dip in sales for its products. These include its Jewels line of rock candy, sales of which were heavily dependent on customer traffic at travel nodes such as the terminals at Changi Airport.

He said: "Everyone we knew was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic... Rather than just focus on our own brands, we decided to help other brands."

Start-up SOS Kitchen, which sells pastes, sauces and jams, said that through the platform, it managed to get its name out quickly and saw its sales grow.

Founder Shilpa Sharma said: "Beyond sales, the platform helped us create a better product experience and now provides a pathway for expansion."

Food Culture Singapore takes a commission from products sold.

Mr Cheng said that the website will also share the story of each brand so it can better connect with consumers.

Enterprise Singapore director of food manufacturing Bernice Tay noted that the pandemic has accelerated the push for e-commerce and digital marketing, with companies looking online to boost their sales and expand their customer base.

She said: "To stand out, they need to start telling their heritage stories, so customers can relate to, and build affinity with, their brands."

Enterprise Singapore provided funding and resources to help set up the platform, said Mr Cheng.

Many of the start-ups on the new platform are also part of Innovate 360, a hub in Jurong for more than 40 food start-ups.

The hub provides them with office space and kitchen and manufacturing facilities, as well as opportunities for networking, mentoring and collaboration with other firms.

The start-ups include Confetti Snacks, which turns vegetables that look less than perfect into chips. Another start-up is Sachi, which produces wine made from soy whey, a by-product of tofu production.

Mr Cheng, who founded Innovate 360 in 2018, said that many of the start-ups are focused on food innovation or sustainability - issues that are close to his heart.

To give the start-ups a further boost, he plans to launch an Asian food venture capital fund by December this year to raise funds which will be invested in start-ups that are involved in deep tech, agritech, consumer-packaged goods and food sustainability.

Innovate 360 now occupies two levels of a six-storey building at 9 Chin Bee Drive, which also houses the Cheng Yew Heng sugar factory.

Mr Cheng plans to expand and provide more co-working office space, test kitchens, research and development laboratories, cloud kitchen and production spaces to help start-ups scale and reach target customers.

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