Written by: James Street, Director of Business Development
This fall I attended Agri-Food Tech Expo Asia (AFTEA), touted as "the region’s leading showcase platform for products, services and solutions on the forefront of innovation in the global Agri-Food and Agri-Tech Industry."
My objectives with this trip were to reconnect with R&D agencies, meet the capital community and showcase Canadian plant-based innovation and products. It was an important opportunity to show Singapore, the region and other markets in attendance, that Canada has something to offer everyone and we are open to collaboration and investment. During AFTEA, it was confirmed that Canada is perceived as an important strategic partner in the development of plant-based food, feed and ingredients.
Protein Industries Canada participated in a Canadian Pavilion with provincial and industry partners to showcase innovation and highlight the role Canada can play in building global food brands. The booth was busy over the three days with high levels of interest from food brands looking for Canadian ingredients in addition to R&D leaders and investors exploring what is happening in Canada.
I joined a panel discussion titled "Canada’s Role in the Global Plant Protein Ecosystem" moderated by Dr. Andrew Powell of Asia Bio-Business. I was accompanied by Greg Eidsness from Saskatchewan Trade and Invest and Vishal Vijay of Agrocorp as we showcased the Canadian plant-based innovation ecosystem, global relevance and how companies can benefit from establishing or expanding their footprint in Canada.
Our pavilion investment also provided our members with the opportunity to speak at the Founder's Hub session where New School Foods and Plantrients/No Meat Factory showcased their technologies and products to the broader audience. The presentations were very well received and generated solid interest from the delegates
The event was well attended by decision-makers from the Asia Pacific markets, setting a solid foundation for relationships and upcoming activities in the region. Delegates and exhibitors were quick to share their enthusiasm for the plant-based market although under the shadow of current inflationary pressures. Many cite that equilibrium in geopolitics and interest rate is needed before acting upon investments/projects of interest.
Here are some of the main takeaways and learnings while in Singapore attending AFTEA:
- Diverse set of offtake opportunities. There is plenty to follow up on over the coming weeks, from livestock feed, Halal certifications, to regional co-packing services, the region still has much to tell us. Layer this with the nuances of individual markets such as Singapore vs Indonesia vs Vietnam, I hope to be sharing more insights soon.
- Singapore as a hub. Both Singapore and the ASEAN region see Singapore as a gateway or hub of access and an important first step in establishing business in the area. Sharing connections and building the trade network is firmly embedded in the business culture here.
- Food Security drivers are strong in the areas various initiatives but imports from Canadian companies are still seen as an obvious component to both food security frameworks and business models
- Competition for Singapore's attention. Canada is not alone in working for Singapore connections and collaborations. The world was at AFTEA in force and not only were they there to see Singapore, they were keen to learn of Canadian opportunities. The Global Innovation Clusters in general have piqued the interest of Spain, Australia, Brazil and others.
- Investors, and particularly the providers of patient capital and/or those who bridge companies into early stages of commercialization, are bullish on the plant-based sector. They are pushing emerging companies to focus on taste and texture within the approach of dialling in the flavour at pilot scale and then chasing the capital to scale something that tastes great.
- Consumer landscape in the ASEAN region. There is plenty to learn here still. It is about gyoza vs nuggets. Convenience on front of package claims focus less on time saved - rather, they showcase the flavour inside, the fun to prepare and the time preparing with family as the value proposition. Investors suggest having a local experienced partner as part of any fundraise critical to success.
- Price parity across the ASEAN region is tricky - there are many dynamics shaping the cost and popularity of various proteins. Some markets are looking at scaling traditional proteins - so feed may be the best play. Others have ready and cheap access to seafood so parity may seem a long way off and the premium foodservice holds the best opportunity.
Special thank you to the High Commission of Canada in Singapore and Trade Commissioner Francis Chan for organizing the Canadian Pavilion and supporting my engagement with Singapore and the ASEAN region.
Director of Business Development
Protein Industries Canada