Asia’s Silicon Valley for good food: China or Singapore?

Many good food companies are already looking for ways to enter Asian markets, where both population and meat consumption are projected to rise rapidly.
Singapore city skyline

‘Tis the season to reflect on what we have learned this past year and, perhaps more tempting, to make predictions for 2019! 2018 was a huge year for good food companies, many of whom are based in or around Silicon Valley, but what is next? Good food is not only going mainstream but global.

Many good food companies are already looking for ways to enter Asia’s markets, where both population and meat consumption (per capita) are projected to rise rapidly in the coming decade. Food innovation is rising to the challenge. Positive indicators point to two countries to keep an eye on: China and Singapore.

China: Plant-based 2.0 takes root

To save the best for first: China’s inaugural plant-based industry association was formed earlier this month! GFI is honored to be one of the founding members of the China Plant-Based Food Alliance. China is a country where tofu and tofu-derivatives have been staples for thousands of years, soy milk came before dairy milk, and plant-based “mock meats” of all tastes and forms have been around for decades. This plant-based industry alliance is a crucial stepping stone toward establishing a new generation of plant-based food and beverages as its own category and gathering policy support to grow the industry.

Elaine speaks at the future food forum 2018 in beijing, china where the china plant-based food alliance was officially formed.
Elaine speaks at the Future Food Forum 2018 in Beijing, China where the China Plant-Based Food Alliance was officially formed.

GFI Director of SciTech David Welch and I recently met with scientists and researchers from universities in China and got a glimpse of the huge untapped potential. We have previously highlighted Peking University as one of the world’s top 12 universities that have the infrastructure and expertise to take plant-based research to the next level. And come March 2019, Shenzhen University will be launching a new alternative protein research center.

From the investment side, this year in China we have seen quite a few high-profile “agrifood tech” deals, including acquisitions made by the three tech giants, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. However, the vast majority of investment and innovation has taken place at the consumer side of the agrifood supply chain, rather than in food innovation itself. Compared to their downstream counterparts, upstream startups have had a harder time attracting investors and gaining momentum in China. That said, interest in alternative protein continues to grow.

According to Innova Market Insights, China accounted for 16% of plant-based meat product launches globally in 2015. Alongside Germany, China is one of the top two countries for plant-based meat product launches worldwide. We are optimistic that in 2019 we will see more investment into all sides of the supply chain, and not just from big data players but also from local, regional, and global stakeholders.

Singapore: Clean meat is coming to town

Singapore’s first clean meat startup, Shiok Meats, was launched in August of this year, and it is already making waves, wasting no time in closing its first seed round.

Rethink agri-food innovation week in singapore with lou cooperhouse, blue nalu; rom kshuk, future meat; sandhya sriram, shiok meats; elaine siu, gfi; yuki hanyu, integriculture
Rethink Agri-Food Innovation Week in Singapore with Lou Cooperhouse, Blue Nalu; Rom Kshuk, Future Meat; Sandhya Sriram, Shiok Meats; Elaine Siu, GFI; Yuki Hanyu, Integriculture

As a country that has a small domestic market—with a population of only 5.6 million—Singapore imports most of its food. Food security, therefore, is the driving force when it comes to food innovation.   The Singaporean government has invested heavily in technological innovation, pledging S$19 billion (approximately US$13.8 billion) for scientific and technological research. Singapore’s tech sector is also thriving thanks to business-friendly policies and a pragmatic cross-industry regulatory regime. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has connected with the cell-based meat industry since its early days and has demonstrated interest in developing a regulatory pathway for cell-based meat to get to market.  

We can predict the future all we want, but of course, we are more interested in actually creating the good food future we want to see. As a newcomer to the ecosystem in Asia, GFI is excited to get more involved in the region, with much focus on China and Singapore in 2019! 


Elaine siu headshot


Elaine served as GFI’s Managing Director of Asia Pacific for two and a half years, where she put her mixed skillset in law, finance, and startup ventures in service of accelerating the alternative protein sector and transforming the food system.