As a launchpad into the vegan market in Asia, there isn’t a more favourable and welcoming point of entry than Singapore — and for the vegan industry, the outlook is favourable.
With PETA Asia declaring Singapore the second most vegan-friendly city in the region, just losing out to Taiwan’s capital Taipei in the top spot, and beating Bangalore, Bangkok and Bali, which all made the top 10. In addition to a growing appetite for plant-based innovations on the island, the boom in vegan, alternative and inclusive eateries in the city-state makes it a natural pathway for those wishing to enter the Asia market.
“I think 2018 was an extraordinary year and a tipping point for Singapore in terms of growth in demand for more health conscious, plant-based dining,” says Jerome Pagnier, Director of Food and Beverage at Grand Hyatt Singapore. “Singapore got off to a slow start in terms of plant-based and sustainable dining, but it has certainly caught up in recent years.”
Two years ago Pagnier became a vegan and decided to introduce more plant-based options to the menus of the hotel’s five restaurants. In addition to introducing JUST egg-substitute products and plant-based pork meat Omnipork, to the hotel kitchens, Pagnier invited Beyond Burger to park its food truck outside the hotel. A plant-based burger popular across the United States, more than 3,000 were sold in just three days. The brand’s burgers are now outselling beef burgers three to one in the hotel’s Mezza9 restaurant.
“We had no benchmarks to base our launches on, and we were the first in Singapore to introduce a 100 percent plant-based Italian buffet at Pete’s Place, and the first in South East Asia for Beyond, JUST and Omnipork,” recalls Pagnier of his leap of faith.
“Now we understand the demand – it is out there and growing. Singaporeans are not only becoming more health conscious but also environmentally aware. Introducing plant-based options was the best thing we could have done as part of our sustainability journey.”
Broad customer base
Many Asian cultures have culinary traditions that are vegetarian, vegan or primarily plant-based, which, from a dietary perspective, is very much in line with modern veganism. And though the recent surge in the uptake of veganism in Singapore has similar drivers to the rest of the world – a desire for a healthy lifestyle, reducing environmental impacts and ethical eating – it is clear that the surge in popularity of vegan food has as much to do with the quality of the products now available, as the value-driven decisions behind their purchase.
“More and more people are becoming receptive and open to consuming plant-based foods, and this is reflected in the shift of our customer base,” explains Alex Tan, CEO of 100% VeganBurg. “When we first opened, our customer base was 70 percent vegetarians and 30 percent non-vegetarians. Now our customer base consists of 80 percent non-vegetarians!”
Launched in 2010 in Singapore, VeganBurg was the world’s first 100 per cent plant-based burger outlet, and it now has locations across San Francisco as well as Singapore. Soon after VeganBurg opened more vegan restaurants started to enter the Singapore market, such as The Living Café, nomvnom and VegCafe. But Tan doesn’t see competition, instead, he sees comrades who are helping consumers choose a plant-based diet.
“There is definitely a growing community of vegans in Asia, and even more so, a growing community of eco-conscious consumers who are receptive to vegan food. As demand continues to grow, so will the number of vegan dining options – which is great!”
A growing community
The mainstreaming of vegetarian eateries, and now vegan outlets, has also seen a rise in an ‘inclusive’ or ‘alternative’ food culture in Singapore. Inclusive eating refers to offering menu options for a range of dietary requirements including pescatarian, gluten-free, low-carb, Halal-friendly and Jain-friendly.
“Being inclusive means more people can eat our food,” says Melody Teo from modern Korean eatery, Dosirak. “Our mission is to make great Korean flavours and nutritious, healthier food. It is important to us that we share our food with everyone who wants to try it, especially in multicultural Singapore.”
Having opened in 2014, Dosirak’s bibimbap focused menu is fully Halal-certified and a quarter of the items on it are vegan. Vegan bowls make up to 20 percent of total sales.
“Many people customise bowls that end up vegan, but not deliberately, and low-carb options are increasing in popularity,” remarks Teo. “It’s definitely a bit more of a strain on the bottom line, as there is more daily prep work to ensure there is no dietary cross-contamination with ingredients, and that all options are always available on the service line, but it’s what our customers want.”
With vegan and alternative diets increasingly popular with younger consumers, an existing community supportive to new providers, and a strong tradition of plant-based eating across Asia, there is a lot of opportunity for wellness food and drink operators to make their mark in Singapore, in 2019 and beyond.