Opening Speech by Minister Dr Tan See Leng at RAS Epicurean Gala Dinner 2022
Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower , Raffles City Convention Centre Fairmont Ballroom
1. Good evening, everyone. I am glad to join you at RAS’ first Gala Dinner since 2019. As we embrace the new normal, I look forward to more of such in-person events, and I also look forward to dining at many of your food establishments.
2. I want to thank the RAS for the invitation and for organizing this event.
Resilience of the sector through COVID-19
3. The Food Services sector was badly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, as all of the COVID-19 safety protocols and border restrictions dampened demand for F&B services. However, with the progressive lifting of Safe Management Measures and resumption of international travel from last year onwards, there is cause for celebration amongst all of the F&B companies. For example, I was told that total F&B sales have increased by 29.7% in September on a year-on-year basis.
4. I want to commend employers in the Food Services sector for remaining so resilient and adaptable during COVID-19. Many of you have adjusted your business models through digital transformation solutions to maintain business operations and emerge stronger through COVID-19.
Opportunities for enterprise transformation
5. While the sector has already undertaken significant efforts to transform as a result of COVID-19, I believe there is still significant room for progress. The sector’s overall productivity remains well below the economy-wide average. So there is room to further raise productivity. With the cost of ingredients, energy and manpower going up, it is therefore imperative to redouble your efforts, maybe even triple your efforts to improve productivity. The refreshed Food Services Industry Transformation Map (ITM) launched by Enterprise Singapore (ESG) earlier this year sets out strategies to drive enterprise transformation by catalysing innovation to create new revenue streams, and enables companies to capture new growth opportunities both domestically as well as internationally.
6. We hope that you will be able to come together with partners such as IPI Singapore, SATS and larger enterprises, which provide end-to-end support ranging from the sharing of knowledge, food product R&D and go-to-market networks. ESG will also foster closer collaborations between F&B companies and innovation or tech ecosystem partners to drive food resilience and sustainability goals and support all of you to adopt more sustainable solutions or practices in your operations. The Enterprise Sustainability Programme is one initiative that supports companies to develop capabilities in this area.
7. On the international front, as borders reopen, the refreshed ITM also encourages F&B companies to enter new markets, deepen their regional presence and make use of alternative formats to expand their revenue streams.
Need for workforce transformation
8. Enterprise transformation goes hand in hand with workforce transformation. We hope that companies can continue to actively streamline and transform operations to achieve two goals:
To reduce manpower reliance and maintain a leaner workforce;
And drive job redesign to create higher-value jobs and reskilling pathways to attract and uplift the local F&B workforce.
9. Those are broad objectives which we hope that you will be able to work closer with our ESG colleagues to achieve.
10. We hope that you can also embrace automation. Automated equipment supports companies in streamlining front and back-of-house operations to improve production efficiency and capacity. With support from ESG’s Enterprise Development Grant (EDG), Kaffe and Toast launched its first Nanyang Kopi robotic unit at their Changi General Hospital outlet. This Robotic Barista was customized to achieve the “human pulling” capability of an experienced coffee brewer to oxygenate the Nanyang kopi, helping Kaffe and Toast to reduce reliance on baristas. As a result, the company has achieved significant improvement – about 15 to 20% improvement in productivity, with the average time required to deliver one beverage reduced from 30 to 24 seconds. The average number of staff has also been reduced, and the service staff can now focus on less laborious tasks such as customer service. Foodtalks also pivoted during the pandemic and set up a ready-to-eat (RTE) line to supply semi-processed and RTE products to many other businesses. The company’s manpower savings amounted to 130 minutes per batch, and freed up manpower so that this manpower could be allocated to perform other tasks. And chefs for the company are now equipped with competencies to operate new machines such as blast freezers and vacuum packs that can drastically cut down manual and tedious tasks.
11. The Food Services sector has made good progress in digitalisation and productivity improvements, over the last few years. We hope that F&B companies can adopt even more integrated digital solutions to streamline operations and allow for better data collection and analysis.
12. Now, as we increase the sector’s productivity, we hope that employers will continue to drive job redesign and reskilling so that you can create higher paying jobs to uplift and retain workers in your companies.
13. There are a number of companies that have done so. One of them is Crystal Jade. They have used the downtime during the pandemic to transform their business operations and streamline process by tapping on new technology. And the list goes on. Another group, Kitchen Haus Group, a caterer, entered the food manufacturing business with the virtual brand “Gourmet Xpress”, offering ready-to-eat products such as Chicken Tikka Masala and Indian Chicken Korma.
14. Through this, more than 2,600 workers have been upskilled and reskilled via all of the various initiatives.
15. Moving forward, we hope that all of you can continue to reskill your employees through the Career Conversion Programme for Food Services Industry, and as much as you help them to reskill, we will do our best to provide resources to help you as well.
16. I am very heartened that the industry has taken the lead on transformation. Last week, the Restaurant Association of Singapore led a study mission to Japan comprising participants from the Food Services sector. Together with the Singapore Productivity Centre and ESG, the delegation looked at new automation technologies and connected with established Japanese brands. I understand that the trip was very productive, and the participants came back brimming with ideas. I want to thank the RAS for allowing MOM officers to join the visit, and to also gain more in-depth knowledge of the Food Services Sector.
The role of trade associations and chambers
17. Trade associations and chambers like the RAS play a pivotal role in driving sectoral transformation, and you are an important bridge between the Government and companies.
18. I know that you will continue to champion the needs and interests of the Food Services sector.
19. I encourage F&B operators to leverage the suite of programmes by RAS to develop your workers and power your next phase of growth, so that together, we can further strengthen and future-proof the sector.
20. Lastly, I am also pleased to share that tonight, WSG will be recognising the 26 F&B employers with the Commendation for Workforce Resilience certificate for their strong commitment towards nurturing the workforce during the pandemic. During the pandemic, the companies have reskilled more than 1,000 workers through the Career Conversion Programme for Food Service Industry, enabling them to take on redesigned and enhanced job roles as part of their business transformation journey. Two of these companies, BreadTalk Group and Zingrill Holdings, which reskilled the most workers through the programme, will receive the Workforce Resilience Award. I would like to congratulate the award recipients and I hope they serve as an inspiration for other employers to continue enhancing the jobs and skills of their workforce.
21. I want to congratulate all the Epicurean Star Awards nominees and winners for their strong and innovative F&B concept offerings, as well as individual finalists of the Excellence Service Award (EXSA) that have stood out for their exceptional service standards.
22. I hope that all of you will look back at how much you have worked to accomplish over the past few years. You can look back with pride and with fond memories, not of the pandemic, but how much you have overcome, and I hope that you will continue to drive the industry forward. I wish you an excellent culinary, epicurean evening. Thank you very much.