SAFEF launch of new local produce
The launch of new local produce grown under a collective model. From left: senior minister of state for sustainability and environment Koh Poh Koon, Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation chief executive Ken Cheong, Fairprice Group chief executive Vipul Chawla. Image: Eco-Business/ Liang Lei

Fixing the market: Can Singapore land on a formula to lift demand for local produce?

Businesses are testing out new models that can simplify the way people buy locally-grown food. But will prices be competitive enough, and is buying and eating local in the Singaporean cultural DNA?

Beyond innovation and infrastructure, there is an increasing awareness that local market conditions have to improve.

“Farmers want volume, sustainable demand, fair trade and to be paid better,” said former Kranji Countryside Association president Kenny Eng, 49, noting that the government should do more to catalyse demand for local produce, beyond handing out money for farms to go high-tech, which does not always promise economic returns.

Rather than relying on the government to turn things around, the fourth-generation farmer, who heads up Gardenasia, the events arm of horticultural business Nyee Phoe Group, has resolved to create a business model that simplifies the way people buy local produce.  

During Covid-19, his firm started a campaign – which continues to this day – which got companies and individuals to sponsor fresh local produce for underserved communities, helping to offtake local produce while complementing the less nutritious shelf-stable foods that beneficiaries typically receive. In the past two years, it has raised over S$83,000 (US$62,000) from 118 donors.  

The company has also rolled out unique ready-to-eat products made from locally-grown fish and vegetables, like assam fish chowder packets and spinach gelato, to target younger consumers looking to save time on cooking.

Now, larger groups are also tinkling with the idea. This year, the Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation (SAFEF) has started to convince farmers of the merits of a collective model. The idea is that the Singapore market is too saturated for farmers to be fighting over, while burning through their own cash for logistics, branding and differentiation efforts, so it may be better to work together and deliver standardised products in greater volumes. This allows small farms, which are usually ignored by larger retail chains, to participate too.

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