By Wayne Prowse
Singapore has developed into a strategic commercial and financial hub in South East Asia with a population exceeding 5.3 million. It has a modern urbanised economy that relies heavily on global trade which has helped propel the economy to having one of the world’s highest per capita income rates.
Being a small island nation with negligible agriculture, Singapore relies almost entirely on imports for its fresh food needs. Fresh food is distributed to consumers through sophisticated retail chains dominated by NTUC Fair Price and Cold Storage although there are still traditional wet markets throughout Singapore. In 2013 Singapore imported 400,000 tonnes of fresh fruit of which 95 per cent remained for domestic consumption and 5 per cent re-exported mostly to Malaysia and Indonesia. Apples were the largest single fresh fruit product imported followed by bananas and oranges.
Apple consumption in Singapore has remained consistent over the decade and with no measurable production the imports minus exports equates to consumption. Overall, Singapore consumes around 44,000 tonnes of apples per year or approximately 8.3kg per person. Pear consumption has declined 34 per cent over the decade and consumption is 3.8 kg per person. Of this, European pear varieties is 1.2 kg per year.
Trade with Singapore
Singapore is an open market with no tariff or quarantine barriers to restrict trade. This means that it is relatively easy to supply apples and pears to Singapore, however it also means that competitors have the same advantages. Building a clear point of difference for Australian apples and pears is very important.
Before 2000, Australia was a key supplier of apples and pears to Singapore however trade has dwindled with South Africa and New Zealand becoming the major southern suppliers of apples, and South Africa and Argentina are the main suppliers of pears. A decade ago Australia was the leading southern supplier of pears.
Overall China is the main supplier of apples and accounted for 37 per cent share in 2013/14 followed by South Africa (23%), New Zealand (18%), and United States (9%).
South Africa has increased its share of the Singapore market over the decade while China has declined. In 2002, Australia supplied 9 per cent of Singapore’s apples though that has evaporated to negligible levels.
Similarly, China is the main supplier of pears to Singapore which are mostly Asian pear varieties. Trade from China has declined 40 per cent since 2002 whilst the European style pears supplied by Australia and other southern hemisphere suppliers has dipped only 14 per cent over the decade albeit with market share shifts away from Australia and favouring South Africa and Argentina.
According to Singapore import statistics, Australia’s price points for apples were high relative to competitors although is substantiated by our focus on high quality at expense of volume.
Outlook for Australian pome fruit
With a relatively small population growing at 1.92 per cent a year with a high purchasing power compared to other countries in the region, Singapore is not too likely to increase its rate of consumption significantly any time soon. However, Australia does have strong market share positions for citrus, grapes and stone fruits. Multi-product exporters who have good relationships with Singapore’s retail supply chain partners are arguably best positioned to assist the Australian apple and pear industry to develop new programs for Australian apples and pears.
Although the market appears price sensitive, Singapore has an appetite for high quality produce and retail buyers have significant influence over where fruit is sourced. Buyers respond to consistent service and effective retail programs that help maintain or build their categories. Australia’s proximity to Singapore is a key advantage though our main competition is South Africa, New Zealand and also Argentina. South Africa in particular has expanded their trade to Singapore with consistent promotion programs which add value to the retail offer and appeals to the buyers. It would be prudent to develop awareness of the marketing programs offered by these suppliers.
Growth will come from increasing market share rather than absolute market growth. A program delivered with consistent varieties and agreed volumes and price points over a set period such as April to June would complement the Australian fruit offer and begin to rebuild a stronger market share position in Singapore for Australian apples and pears.
APAL Support: Pear industry development
APAL, with the support of Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) Victoria, has been working with leading growers to promote Australian pears and build market opportunities in Singapore throughout 2014. These promotions were supported with funding from Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited (HIA).
Promotions were conducted during July and August 2014 and focused on a range of pears and pack sizes via a series of in-store promotions, tastings and media promotion at NTUC Fair Price, Cold Storage and Giant retail stores. The pears were supplied by a several growers; a great example of industry working collaboratively to supply the right fruit for the right customer.
Feedback from retail buyers is that promotional support is very important in regaining a position as a premium supplier of pears. The potential for a new Australian pear brand has been discussed amongst leading grower-exporters. This must be built around delivering a consistent and reliable product every time. We do not need to compete on price alone but we must offer a great tasting product and work closely with our customers to deliver what they want – be it specific sizes, packaging options or opportunities to promote the fruit to consumers.
When you look at the statistics presented in this article, it is interesting to note that Australian pears receive the highest per kilogram price of all imported pears. We are a niche supplier and we need to deliver a high quality product to meet that expectation. Simultaneously, we need a concerted effort to grow our export volumes and take back market share from our competitors. It is concerning to see Argentina, which is located thousands of kilometres away from Singapore, take such a large share of the market.
New pear varieties
Australian pears were also showcased at the ‘Food and Hotel Asia’ Singapore trade show, 9-10 April 2014. Two new pear varieties bred at DEPI Tatura were showcased to selected importers at the trade show to seek feedback on their suitability for the market. They were very well received because the firmness, colour and sweet taste matched the palate of the market. Importers are keen to trial them when commercial quantities are available.
About the author
Wayne Prowse is an Export Consultant at Fresh Intelligence Consulting. For more information contact Wayne at firstname.lastname@example.org.