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Singapore: First Sustainable Foods Summit Asia-Pacific successful

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Organisers and speakers at the first Sustainable Food Summit Asia in Singapore.

Organisers and speakers at the first Sustainable Food Summit Asia in Singapore. Photo © Ecovia Intelligence

The premier Asia-Pacific edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit drew to a successful close in Singapore a few weeks ago, bringing together about 100 senior executives from the regional food industry. Discussions centered on sustainability developments, organic market potential, health impacts, and food ingredients.

The summit opened with a keynote from Raj Seelam, CEO of Sresta Natural BioProducts. According to the founder of the leading organic food company in India, organic is the most sustainable form of agriculture because of its low environmental impacts, as well as social and health benefits. Tobias Bandel of Soil & More also called for more organic farming systems because of its positive contribution to soil fertility.

Organisers and speakers at the first Sustainable Food Summit Asia in Singapore.

Organisers and speakers at the first Sustainable Food Summit Asia in Singapore. Photo © Ecovia Intelligence

Potential for sustainable seafood and Impact of plastic packaging

Anne Gabriel from Marine Stewardship Council highlighted the potential for sustainable seafood in the Asia-Pacific. She said that 1 billion people in the region rely on fish as their primary animal protein, whilst over 80% of the world’s fisheries are located here. The organisation aims to take 20% share of global marine catch by 2020, and a third by 2030.

In another paper, Andy Sweetman from Futamura made the case for bioplastics. Highlighting the environmental impact of plastic packaging (8 million tonnes going into the ocean each year), he called for greater adoption of plant-based packaging materials by food and beverage companies. Will Marg, CEO of Organic Systems and Solutions, gave an update on sustainability certification schemes. She believes the future is with traceability, block-chain measures, and new technologies.

Asia had become a leading producer of organic foods

Some of the major obstacles in the Asian organic food industry were debated in the second session. In the opening seminar, Amarjit Sahota from Ecovia Intelligence showed that Asia had become a leading producer of organic foods, yet consumption was lagging behind Europe and North America in spite of the region having some of the most affluent consumers.

Amarjit Sahota, CEO of Ecovia Intelligence analysed the Asian markets.

Amarjit Sahota, CEO of Ecovia Intelligence analysed the Asian markets. Photo © Ecovia Intelligence

Tan Jian from OFDC China said that milk & dairy was one of the fastest growing sectors of the Chinese organic food market. Standards inconsistency and labelling issues were cited as the major pitfalls when entering the Chinese market. Organic and Beyond Corporation and Sresta Natural BioProducts presented as case studies of leading organic food enterprises in China and India respectively. Vitoon Panyakul discussed the key issues Asian companies face when developing local markets in Asia, whilst Andrew Monk from Australian Organic gave insights into consumer behaviour. When debating the future outlook for organic products, some panellists believed Asia will show high growth in the coming decade. One speaker called into question the role of certification, since the region has a large and disparate number of organic standards.

Second day: healthy diets and digital media

Duncan McCance from The Frank Food Company kicked off the second day with a keynote on healthy diets. The chef is attempting to re-connect Singaporean consumers to agriculture with its home delivery scheme. Certified organic vegetables are picked in neighbouring Indonesia and delivered to consumer households within 12 hours. To encourage home cooking, the company provides free recipes. Nielsen highlighted some of the health & wellness trends stimulating demand for organic and sustainable foods. Digital media is expected to play an important role in the future, helping consumers make healthy and sustainable choices.

Callie Tai, CEO and Co-Founder of the leading health & organic food shop in Malaysia JustLife, shared her story in encouraging consumers to lead a healthy lifestyle. Education plays a key role, with the company arranging organic farm visits, an Earth day carnival, and campaigns for earth-friendly beauty products. SaladStop! was presented as a case study of a chain of healthy food diners. Set up in November 2009, the Singapore-based company has set up almost 40 outlets in various Asian locations. It is using sustainable and traceable ingredients in its healthy food options.

Eugene Wang, Founder and CEO of Sophie’s Kitchen, called for more plant-based proteins in Asian diets. The company is using konjac flour, algae, and yellow peas to create seafood alternative products. The dietician Ujjwala Baxi discussed the paradox of healthy food choices; she believes the best way to encourage healthy foods was incremental changes in consumer behaviour.

Audience at the 1. Sustainable Food Summit Asia.

Audience at the 1. Sustainable Food Summit Asia. Photo © Ecovia Intelligence

The final session discussed the growing use of sustainable food ingredients. Givaudan covered the sustainability issues associated with flavourings, whilst Puifung Leung from Fairtrade Hong Kong outlined the growing prospects for fairtrade products in the Asian region. Kalli Swaik from Ben & Jerry’s Asia gave insights into the sustainable ingredients used in the company’s ice-cream products; apart from fairtrade sugar and cocoa, the company has a sustainable dairy programme involving 300 farmers. The iconic ice-cream brand is using life-cycle analyses to address its environmental and social impacts. PureCircle described the growing use of stevia as a sustainable alternative to sugar in food and beverage applications.

One of the liveliest and inspiring seminars was given by H.E. Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji, Bhutan Minister of Agriculture and Forests. The small Himalayan country is often cited as the ‘poster child’ of sustainability; it is one of the leading advocates of organic farming, a major producer of clean energy and is carbon positive. According to the minister, the country faces many challenges when combining sustainable farming and environmental stewardship because of its mountainous terrain. He also said that all government projects are screened partly on Gross National Happiness (GNH) to see how they contribute to health & mental well-being.

Hosted for the first time in Asia, the summit raised many questions about sustainable development. As incomes and spending power rise, how can Asian consumers be encouraged to spend more on organic & sustainable foods? What can be done to raise adoption rates of plant-based proteins and dairy alternatives? How can sustainable packaging be encouraged? How can awareness of environmental issues like deforestation, ocean pollution, and climate change be translated into ethical purchases? How can governments be encouraged to intertwine environmental / sustainable development with economic development?

Some of these questions will be addressed in the next Asia-Pacific edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit, scheduled for 4-5th September 2018.





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