This was the statement that celebrity chef and food writer Violet Oon who is Singapore’s well-known food ambassador said at the recent International Food Exhibition here in Manila.
“Perception is reality. Which reality of the Philippines and your products do you want to showcase for the perception that other people have of you?”, she asked.
The 63-year old Oon, sometimes referred to as the “Julia Child of Singapore” according to an article in The New York Times, talked about how Philippine food suppliers can successfully break into the mainstream Singapore food market. She said that out of over five million population of Singapore, approximately 150,000 thousand are Filipinos; therefore, Philippine manufacturers who only cater to Filipinos in Singapore are missing out on the bigger slice of the pie.
“Are you happy with that sector of the public in Singapore? It is an easy route to take.” She cited the successful opening of Jollibee in Singapore which, she said, closes at 2 AM—instead of 9 PM—every day, because of the great influx of Filipino customers.
For food manufacturers that are interested in marketing to the non-Filipinos living in Singapore, Oon said that the road to export success requires much more work than just “importing a Filipino concept and opening your doors for business. Singaporeans, said Oon, are well educated, hold good jobs and spend a lot of money on food—both in restaurants and in supermarkets as well as in the “wet” markets of Singapore.
The city state’s leading newspaper, The Straits Times, recently published an article with the headline “Dining out—Singaporeans are region’s top spenders,” which reported that Singaporeans spend a monthly average of US$262 (approximately PHP10,800) on dining out and are the biggest spenders in the Asia-Pacific, followed closely by the Japanese and the Chinese. The report also identifies food courts as the most popular venue in Singapore, followed by mid-range family restaurants and cafes, fast food restaurants, stand-alone fine dining restaurants, hotel restaurants and pubs.
Singapore placed third in Forbes’ 2012 list of the World’s Richest Countries and Global Finance magazine’s 2012 ranking of the World’s Richest and Poorest Countries based on GDP per capita using purchasing power parity. It is the Philippines’ fourth top trade partner with US$9.7 billion and fifth top source of investments worth US$345 million.
In a 2012 report on the global wealth management industry by international management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, Singapore occupied the top spot in having the highest density of millionaire households in 2011 with 188,000 or 17 percent of households having private wealth of US$1 million or more, and was second to Switzerland in terms of ultra-high net worth households with 10 out of every 100,000 having more than US$100 million in private financial wealth.
“What does the Philippines have to offer?”
According to Oon, these wealthy and sophisticated consumers are turning away from “produced food” (products churned out with the use of modern techniques and machines) and are now more inclined to buy food items produced through old-fashioned farming techniques. She added that Philippine manufacturers are going in the right direction in producing goods for the international gourmet market—products that are “organic, natural, traditional.” Artisanal, she said, is the byword of the sophisticated consumer.
“These old-fashioned techniques, combined with an educated, modern entrepreneur can only be a winning formula,” Oon said.
“Brand, brand, brand yourselves—as people of tradition, history and old-fashioned farming techniques,” Oon urged, “And half your battle will be won.” But it will not be easy, she cautioned, emphasizing that out of all export products in the world, food is the most difficult because of safety concerns.
Her advice. SMEs should take advantage of support initiatives and participate in overseas trade events organized by the Philippine government where products and services can be promoted firsthand to a global audience. She explained that importing or exporting agricultural and fishery products need government to government cooperation, since trade agreements must be negotiated and ironed out. “And to win the hearts and minds of the Singapore consumer, you will need to shock them into realizing that your country has riches beyond imagination—and all the trigger points of what is desired by the modern epicure,” Oon stated.
She pointed to two Philippine products as prime examples: Mama Sita’s vinegar made from fermented coconut nectar and Raw Brown Muscovado sugar from Negros Oriental that “hit all the correct trigger points—(made from) one hundred percent fresh sugarcane juice with all the correct certifications” guaranteeing that the product was both Halal and organic. This is a critical product component as Singapore’s population is comprised of Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus and Christians. “You want Singapore and the rest of the world to wake up and realize that the Philippines is a producer of epicurean food ingredients.”
Oon concluded, “Which story does the Philippines want to share and which reality does the Philippines want the rest of the world to perceive of her? Now that is the challenge. If only we can get our acts together.
God is Great!