Why digitalisation future-proofs Singapore’s food supply chain

Singapore, an island nation scarce in natural resources, imports more than 90% of its nutritional requirements from over 170 countries and regions. This diversified sourcing ensures a resilient food supply chain.

The impact of lockdowns arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, further exacerbated by geopolitical issues such as the Russia-Ukraine war and coupled with the inflationary pressure over the past three years, has intensified the focus on global food supply chains. Closer to home in 2022, Singapore faced a disruption in its supply of live poultry when Malaysia, its primary source, banned exports to protect its domestic market.

These issues have only reinforced the need for Singapore to be self-sufficient when it comes to food.

The impact of the global landscape on F&B

The present global landscape has resulted in a trickle-down effect on Singapore’s food and beverage (F&B) businesses in Singapore, which find themselves confronted by unique challenges arising from supply chain disruptions, as well as rising costs of commodities and ingredients.

At the same time, the industry is working hard to keep pace with evolving consumer expectations and demands which, in turn, shape purchase decisions. A clear emerging trend is the greater priority placed on health and nutrition, as well as sustainability — be it in food packaging or ingredient sourcing. Many consumers actively look for options that minimise environmental impact.

Furthermore, F&B businesses have to navigate complex labelling and ingredients regulations, which vary from region to region, and from one country to another. This complexity can present real business challenges, to the extent of affecting global product launches, for example.

Optimising operations in F&B with digital technologies

To tackle these challenges, F&B businesses in Singapore are turning to digital technologies to identify ingredients in line with consumer preferences, bridge gaps in the supply chain, streamline operations, and optimise business processes.

Some F&B businesses have already implemented digital tools to manage their operations in a holistic and collaborative way, or to better control production cost, regulatory compliance, and quality control, to name a few.

Large F&B manufacturers are also leveraging tech to gain visibility into their global manufacturing networks, achieve synchronised operations, and operate in a leaner and faster way. At the same time, digitalisation enables continuous implementation of improvements to their processes by eliminating common errors in production that lead to rework, scrap, and quality issues.

Virtual twin technologies, for example, enable F&B businesses to transform innovation processes. They can move from R&D labs to pilot and from pilot to scale, bringing game-changing innovations to market faster. By replacing antiquated, inefficient lab processes, such as physical experiments, with simulations via the virtual twin technology, F&B businesses also stand to gain significant savings in terms of time and cost.

How can the industry leverage frontier technologies such as AI and ML?

In recent years, the maturity of data analytics technology has transformed science-driven industries, F&B included.

With the adoption of frontier technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), F&B businesses can develop new, personalised, better-performing, and more cost-effective ingredients, flavours, and fragrances in faster and more efficient ways.

Newer techniques allow businesses to accelerate the stages of acquiring the characterisation, cleaning, and modelling of data. This data is subsequently translated into actionable insights in the development of new food products.

At Dassault Systèmes, we are seeing more businesses apply technology to transform how food is grown and produced. The Singapore government has been ramping up efforts to support the growth of the local agri-food ecosystem by facilitating investment in technology across three priority areas: urban agriculture, aquaculture, and alternative proteins.

Scientists at A*STAR, for instance, are creating more sustainable protein products. The heightened awareness of environmental sustainability and health concerns has resulted in a growing global demand for protein production methods that minimise environmental impact.

Strengthening Singapore’s “30-by-30” vision

The Singapore government has set an ambitious “30-by-30” goal: To self-produce 30% of the country’s nutritional needs by 2030. With this, many plans have been put into action.

First, there is a multi-agency team comprising the Economic Development Board, Enterprise Singapore, A*STAR, JTC Corporation, and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), set up to look into various aspects of growing the agri-food ecosystem here. This involves identifying ways to provide better support in industry, enterprise, and workforce development; R&D; and regulations.

The Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation, which is part of A*STAR, consolidates A*STAR’s existing capabilities under one roof, builds on current collaborations, and enhances economic value capture for Singapore’s food ecosystem.

SFA is also streamlining regulatory requirements to help companies adopt new technologies and business innovations that are integral to this new industry.

On the private sector front, technology businesses are bringing innovations to the fields of advanced food manufacturing, agri-tech, biopharmaceuticals, biotechnology, farming, specialty chemicals, and more.

In conclusion, it takes public-private sector collaboration to build a truly future-ready F&B industry. Technology businesses can bring the tools, while the government organisations provide the infrastructure. This will serve as a springboard for the scientific community to drive breakthrough innovation.