Disruption in Food and Sustainability Summit (DFSS): A Summary

April 2, 2019

Produced by Peter Lewis – DFSS Ecosystem Partner

Now that the whirlwind of DFSS is behind us, we want to share with you some of our key takeaways from the event, and how we think these insights can be used to push for greater disruption in food sustainability going forward. Let’s dive in!

Following CRF President Dr. George Jacobs’ welcoming remarks, Dr. Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State in Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment and Water Resources outlined the next chapter in Singapore’s food story, which is centered on Singapore’s ambition to achieve greater food security and further establish itself as a leader in food innovation. Minister Khor described Singapore’s three prong strategy for food security based on the diversification of imports, increased local food production, and the expansion of Singaporean companies overseas to enable their export of food back to Singapore. She also gave a hint of the discussions to come when she stated that innovation in alternative proteins will play a role in filling these food baskets, and that Singapore aims to supply 30% of food demand with local products, a goal that resurfaced as a talking point throughout the event. DFSS happened to take place on the heels of an exciting government announcement, that 144 million dollars will be earmarked to enable urban food production, food innovation, and food safety efforts, with Minister Khor stating that grants will be made available in the second half of this year.

After Minister Khor’s discussion of Singapore’s food future, Dr. Rina Augustina of the EAT-LANCET Commission presented a compelling macro-scale analysis on the urgency of setting in place a global food system that “achieves a planetary health diet for nearly 10 billion people by 2050.” Drawing on a holistic environmental assessment based on 6 planetary boundaries (emissions, cropland use, water use, nitrogen and phosphorus application, and extinction rate), Dr. Augustina stated that “food is the single strongest driving force on environmental pressure”, as well as the greatest opportunity to optimize global health: EAT-Lancet’s models predict that by transitioning to a planetary health diet, 11 million deaths per year could be prevented. Despite the importance of this issue and the promising innovation in food sustainability, she cautioned that the global food system is still moving in the wrong direction.

While plant-based diets have received criticism from some for being accessible only to affluent socioeconomic groups in developed markets, Dr. Augustina highlighted that many traditional dietary patterns and cuisines in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are predominantly plant-based and compatible with a planetary health diet. This insight raises encouraging possibilities for ensuring a sustainable, healthy, and culturally relevant trajectory for the food systems in these regions, as well as opportunities for plant-based product concepts that satisfy the increasingly internationalised palettes of consumers in developed markets. Dr. Augustina’s calls to action include international and national commitments to shift towards healthy diets, at least a 50% reduction in food losses and waste, and the reorientation of agricultural priorities towards high quality healthy food over output quantity.

Later in the morning, Dr. Andy Kusumo from platinum sponsor Quorn from Monde Nissin demonstrated how mycoprotein technology is helping improve the wellbeing of people and our planet while creating innovative solutions for food security. Although microorganisms have long been used in the food system as flavorings and additives, Quorn breaks new ground with mycoprotein’s filament structure to offer a whole ingredient that can be used in a variety of applications at the center of the plate. Quorn’s development strategy highlights the innovative potential in marrying traditional ingredient types with modern food production technology to create novel and differentiated products.

Moving towards the consumer-facing point of the supply chain, our panel on Green Protein and Meatless Meat discussed the retail dynamics of emerging meat alternative products, and the need to establish a new product category and name. A recurring theme throughout this panel and the day was the collaborative attitude of industry players and the ecosystem as a whole, with Life3 Biotech founder and CEO Ricky Lin stating, “We don’t see Quorn and other companies as competitors. We need to come together to show the market that we are driving these from niche to mainstream products.” The panelists agreed the outlook of the industry is promising, with Jordan Sadowsky from Impossible Foods noting that the product demand in Singapore exceeded expectations by 4-5x, and Vardhan Kapoor from Deliveroo stating that search volume for vegetarian and vegan meals has increased both in absolute terms and as a percentage of traffic. Kapoor also took the opportunity onstage to announce that Deliveroo and Impossible Foods will launch a partnership in the coming weeks, so stay tuned! Finally, panelists highlighted the challenge in moving consumers from product sampling to regular consumption, a key question to consider if the plant-based movement is to succeed in the long-term.

Of course, any coverage of DFSS would be incomplete without mentioning Shiok Meats’ prototype launch, where three of the startup’s advisors sampled the first cell-based shrimp dumplings. The dumplings smelled just like conventionally produced shrimp, and Elaine Siu from GFI was happy to report that “it tastes like Siew mai!”

The morning’s focus on Asia was broadened by Verena Wiederkehr’s scene setter presentation on plant-based foods in Europe and ProVeg International’s support of the ecosystem. Notable takeaways include the investment and business opportunities to address current shortages of pea protein, and the development of novel products like pulled oat meat launching in European markets.

Benjamin McCarron from Asia Research and Engagement provided comments on the evolution of plant-based protein in Asia, highlighting that a significant proportion of the region’s protein comes from whole plants such as rice and traditional protein products like tofu rather than the novel meat alternatives that have received such broad media exposure and investment in western markets. McCarron also pointed out that per capita meat consumption increases most rapidly during economic development at lower income thresholds and emphasised the urgency of addressing the projected growth in protein demand in Asia.

Food Frontier founder and CEO Thomas King wrapped up our morning scene-setter presentations by laying out a number of reasons that make Australia and New Zealand ripe for food innovation and industry growth. Among these advantages are the countries’ advanced research institutions, high per-capita concentrations of plant-based consumers, mature agricultural sectors, strong trade agreements for regional export, and sterling food safety reputations.

The second panel of DFSS brought together the Grand Hyatt, Food Navigator Asia, Le Bono Collection, Green Monday, Monde Nissin, Sodexo, and 4Fingers to discuss plant-based users and the supply side of the equation. Samantha de Mello from the Grand Hyatt cited inclusivity as a core value in shaping the hotel’s dining experience, and Dave Acton from 4Fingers outlined the bottom-line impact of this value and the power of a single customer’s “veto” vote to steer a group towards a restaurant that provides suitable plant-based options. Roshith Rajan shared some actionable insights that Sodexo leverages to shift consumer perception and behavior, integrating plant-based options throughout the menu layout, avoiding health claims, and emphasising provenance and flavor.

In the afternoon panel on Singapore’s regional and global leadership in cell-based meat led by Dan Riegler, Founder from Karana, Elaine Siu from GFI shared that Singapore is arguably the most committed government in the world with its public research funding for regenerative medicine and tissue culture, and pointed out Singapore’s unique potential to advance the field due to its lack of animal agricultural interest groups. A*STAR researcher Kelvin Ng highlighted a supporting rationale for this public investment in the economic value capture across medical and food sectors.

Albrecht Wolfmeyer gave us a look into how the ProVeg Incubator is supporting food innovation in Europe and around the world, and discussed the potential for proteins using yeast, mycelium grown on agricultural side streams or food waste, as well as the trending demand for pea protein, hemp protein, and chickpea protein. Our focus session wrapped up with Michal Klar of Future Food Now and his investor’s perspective on new proteins. His numbers illustrate a sector ripe for growth: plant-based startups have raised USD 1.7 billion and secured USD 2.8 billion in exits, with many analysts predicting Beyond Meat’s IPO to be the industry’s first unicorn.

DFSS wrapped up with two final panel discussions on innovation in the value chain and the potential for urban farming to realize Singapore’s Vision 2030. Vikas Garg from abillionVeg made the case for purpose-driven businesses and the impact purpose can have on a company’s bottom line. Rob Hulme from Beanstalk Agtech, Tai Seng Yee from Zenxin Organic, Darren Ho from Citizen Farm, and Peter Barber from ComCrop all agreed that the feasibility of local agriculture hinges on price and discussed the possibility of integrated production and consumption community ecosystems in Singapore. Finally, Paul Teng highlighted opportunities for secondary or tertiary value addition at the farmgate for Singapore’s farms, which could unlock opportunities for export industries as well as local consumption.

DFSS thanks all the distinguished speakers for offering their insights and the attendees for their participation. We look forward to seeing you all at next year’s summit, and looking back together on what will surely have been an exciting year in Singapore’s food system!