Singapore is highly dependent on food and beverage imports and its upwardly mobile consumer base presents a highly lucrative market for Australian brands. The city-state is also Australia’s largest trade and investment partner in Southeast Asia and businesses view Singapore as a strong base for ASEAN market outreach owing to its trade infrastructure and FTA networks.
Selected companies from Australia’s premium food sector were recently showcased by Austrade (the Australian Trade and Investment Commission) at the Specialty & Fine Food Asia (SFFA) fair, 2022. The June event was marketed as a leading trade show for artisan, gourmet, and fine food and drink, serving suppliers looking to expand their profile in Singapore and the wider ASEAN region.
Singapore is an attractive market for the Australian food and beverage (F&B) sector, as well as other agribusinesses. The city-state is Australia’s largest trade and investment partner in the region and businesses see Singapore as a strong base for ASEAN expansion, owing to its openness to trade, highly skilled workforce, and healthy indigenous economy.
Singapore is Australia's largest trade and investment partner in the ASEAN region and its sixth-largest globally. In 2020, trade between the two nations was worth some A$27 billion (US$18 billion). Canberra and Singapore have continuously worked to enhance trade relations and increase market access.
For example, in August 2020, Australian and Singaporean Trade Ministers signed the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA), which upgrades the existing digital trade arrangements between Australia and Singapore. Existing agreements were struck under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA – signed 2003.
But the links between the two nations go further than just trade. In 2016, the Singaporean community in Australia numbered some 72,860 people. Meanwhile, more than 130,000 Singaporeans have graduated from Australian universities. There are approximately 20,000 Australians residing in Singapore.
F&B exports from Australia to Singapore
Due to the limited availability of land, Singapore imports over 90 percent of the food consumed, according to Austrade. As such, the nation of 5.5 million people is largely reliant on international supply chains, creating a wealth of opportunities for international F&B companies. Australian brands are chief among those attempting to gain more of a foothold in Singapore.
The five main suppliers of food to Singapore are Australia, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the United States, according to International Enterprise Singapore’s Statlink statistics and as cited by Austrade.
And according to the Global Trade Atlas (Australian Bureau of Statistics), Singapore was Australia’s 10th largest market for food, beverage, and agribusiness products in 2016. The export market was worth A$1.2 billion to the Australian economy. Singapore was Australia’s seventh largest export market for wines, with the trade valued at A$73 million (US$50.7 million). Also in 2016, Australia was the largest supplier of beef, cheese, and lamb products and the second largest supplier of pork, milk, and cream products to Singapore.
What have Australian F&B brands got to offer?
If you thought it was just Tim Tams and barbie-ready meats, you’d be wrong. Australia has unique and varied F&B products, reflecting the geographical diversity of the country.
At the June Specialty & Fine Food Asia fair, Australian new-to-market products, including handcrafted spirits, premium honey, chocolate, and smoked seafood, were all showcased. Austrade also touted packaged food options, including cricket corn chips and sustainable dog treats, pitched at reducing the environmental paw print.
Besides, Australia is already among the world’s foremost wine producers and a huge exporter of meat products, notably beef. In 2020-21, Australian wine production was just under 1.5 billion liters, making it the fifth largest producer in the world. About 59 percent of production was exported during the year, with the majority of it going to Europe.
In 2018–19, Australia produced approximately 2.4 million tons of beef and veal, with 76 percent of that exported. Queensland is home to the highest number of cattle among all Australian states, with a population of 11.3 million. The state accounts for 47 percent of all beef and veal production during the year. Queensland itself is home to more cattle than the entirety of the UK.
Australian producers can thrive in Singapore’s highly developed, open, and trade-oriented market economy. The city-state has relatively few trade barriers but high standards, which should benefit Australian producers.
Austrade highlights Australia’s competitive advantages in Singapore as:
- Strong brand recognition and reputation as a producer of clean and green F&B brands with high food safety standards
- High level of familiarity with Australia among end-consumers
- Similar time zone
- Counter-seasonal to the northern hemisphere, allowing Australian producers to provide fruit and vegetables when they are not being grown in the north
- Strong sea and air connectivity between Australia and Singapore
Singapore’s F&B market
Opportunities for Australian businesses can be divided to reflect the makeup of the Singapore food, beverage, and agribusiness industry: retail, food service (restaurant, café, hotel), and food manufacturing.
There are three main grocery chains dominating the Singapore retail sector. These are NTUC FairPrice, Dairy Farm International, and Sheng Siong Group. The rest of the sector is made up of smaller, and often family-owned, stores that serve residential areas and apartment complexes.
There’s also a smaller group of stores that sell premium products and cater to higher-wealth clients, including expatriates. Several stores are Australian-linked, such as Little Farms, Farm ‘N Pantry, and The Fishwives.
Supermarket chains often directly import products themselves when the quantities are sufficiently large. However, they also procure products from local importers and distributors. These companies often have appointed consolidators in specific countries.
Singapore also has a burgeoning online retail market for groceries. The movement online was partially engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also reflects the flexibility desired by modern-day professionals. RedMart – which is owned by Alibaba-backed Lazada – is the largest online grocery retailer in Singapore. Amazon’s Prime Now service – launched in 2017 – also delivers grocery products.
Singapore’s restaurant scene is hugely diverse, catering to a wide variety of tastes and incomes. Singaporeans have increasingly taken to eating out, with a 2018 survey suggesting that 55 percent of residents eat out at least once a week, and about 24 percent dine out daily.
The country also boasts a steady stream of international visitors and business guests that have a higher propensity to eat out than local residents. Although, it is worth highlighting that visitor numbers have temporarily fallen since the pandemic. Singapore’s COVID-19 entry requirements are still stricter than many other countries, and this will impact the return to standard consumption patterns.
Singapore recorded its highest ever a number of visitor arrivals (19.12 million) in 2019, but this fell to just 2.7 million in 2020. According to data cited by Austrade, visitors spent S$2.97 billion (US$2.1 billion) on food and beverage in 2016, when 16.4 million people visited the city-state.
In April, Australian producers were showcased at several restaurants in Singapore. Dubbed ‘MakanOzStyle’ (Makan meaning ‘eat’), diners were invited to savor specially curated all-Australian menus at seven Accor restaurants across Singapore. The promotion was arranged by Austrade.
Restaurants, cafés, and hotels are normally reliant on importers due to the relatively small volumes required.
Despite its reliance on overseas imports, Singapore has a small but efficient food manufacturing sector. The industry employs more than 48,000 people and contributes around S$4.3 billion (US$3.1 billion) to the economy. This is about 1.1 percent of Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP).
More than half of the food products manufactured in Singapore are exported, with alcoholic beverages, milk powder, and chocolate or cocoa products being chief among them. According to
It is unsurprising then that Singapore has become a regional hub for global F&B companies and commodity traders. The local food manufacturing sector, with its high-quality standards, also makes Singapore an attractive distribution hub for companies looking to grow into the economically expanding ASEAN region.
Regulations and tariffs
Singapore’s openness to trade makes it an attractive market for Australian F&B producers. There are no applicable tariffs or duties on food and agribusiness products, with the exception of alcoholic beverages.
The beer excise tax is S$60 (US$43) per liter while other spirits and wine carry an excise tax of S$88 (US$63) per liter. Australian beers that satisfy the Rules of Origin requirements are not predisposed to the customs duty of S$16 (US$11) per liter of alcohol, although the S$60 (US$43) per liter duty still applies.
All goods imported into or manufactured in Singapore are subjected to seven percent goods and services tax (GST). The GST is calculated based on the customs value of the goods, plus all duties, or the value of the last selling price plus all duties.