Industry Articles

Singapore Halal Food Sector At the Forefront of Innovation

SHD2021_ED01_Pix01The halal food industry is set to grow exponentially.

According to PEW Research Centre’s projections, the global Muslim population is set to grow by some 70 percent by 2060. The 2019/20 State of the Global Islamic Economy report has also forecast the spend on halal food and beverages to reach US$1.9 trillion by 2023, while the value of the global halal food market is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 6.3 percent to reach US$1.97 trillion in 2024.

Muslims now make up one of the fastest-growing segments of the global travel industry, and hotels, tour operators, as well as food and beverage sectors are increasingly gearing up to be halal-friendly. Singapore is making all the right moves in this area. The Mastercard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2019 reported that Singapore retained its premier position as the top Muslim-friendly non-OIC destination for Muslim travellers.

With the global burgeoning halal industry, Singapore is indeed hungry to have a sizable slice of the market. Its stringent food safety standards and internationally recognised halal standards give the country an enviable edge.

Under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), Majilis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis), also known as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, is vested with the sole legal powers to issue halal certificates in Singapore. Developed in 1978, the Muis halal certificate is possibly the first halal certification system in the world.

The Muis halal certification is “an independent testimony that a food / product is prepared, processed, stored and handled in a manner that is suitable for Muslims.” Halal certification is not compulsory in Singapore but voluntary for all businesses. The bottom-line is, businesses apply for a halal certificate if they intend to target Muslim consumers. Upon certification, the business can carry the official Halal logo.

The demand for halal certification has been surging in Singapore since 1978. Muis reported that in 2019, Muis certified 4,630 premises and 57,690 product types made in Singapore, more than double the volume from a decade ago. There has been an annual increase of 15 percent for issuance of halal certificates in the last 3 years (2017 – 2019). Muis has made big strides to facilitate the demand for halal food and strengthen compliance in the sector.

To keep pace with the growth of the industry and to make application approval faster and easier, Muis made its first major upgrade in 2007 by computerising its manual system. The Muis eHalal System (MeS) managed the entire certification process from start to end.

In 2008, Muis rolled out the Singapore Muis Halal Quality Management System (HalMQ, pronounced as “Hallmark”), a set of systems-based halal requirements that is benchmarked against international known standards such as the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP).

The HalMQ certification, which has been made compulsory for compliance by application effective January 2010, adopts a process-based approach, which assesses the production and preparation of food, from the receipt of raw materials to the sale of the end product. It covers seven types of certification schemes to suit the various categories of the food and food-related industry, spanning across the food chain, from products and eating premises to central kitchens, factories and poultry abattoirs. This structured and systematic approach further increases the credibility and widens international recognition of halal certification in Singapore.

Mark of Global Recognition
Singapore’s position in the global halal map made a quantum jump when the country inked a milestone agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, in 2008. The Gulf Co-operation Council - Singapore Free Trade Agreement, the first free trade agreement concluded by the GCC outside the Middle East, officially recognised the halal certification of Muis.

The Singapore halal mark and standard is also recognised by Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia under the MABIMS agreement, as well as Australia, Europe, South Africa and the United States.

Not resting on its laurels, Muis continued to make significant progress in maintaining the integrity of its halal certification. Between 2009 and 2012, Muis conducts three types of inspections: ad hoc inspections, periodic inspections and certification audits.

The hard work in sharpening the robustness of its halal certification process and standards paid off handsomely. The Muis halal certification system for Product, Whole Plant and Endorsement Schemes was the first in ASEAN to be awarded ISO 17065 by both Singapore Accreditation Council and Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (ESMA) accreditation by the GCC. ESMA’s recognition facilitates expansion of Singapore companies in the UAE. Muis has also received accreditation by Gulf Accreditation Centre (GAC) to United Arab Emirates (UAE) Halal standards GSO-2055-2.

As part of Muis’ continual efforts to refresh its IT systems and harness technology to improve governance and ensure a smooth halal certification and renewal process, the eHalal System was superseded by the government licensing portal LicenceOne in October 2018. The more superior MeS 3.0 replaced the MeS 2.0 and this eliminated pain points such as the need for manual or repetitive entry of information and numerous paper document submissions. Security was also enhanced with the use of SingPass or CorpPass.

To further leverage the power of technology to make the process more business-centric, LicenceOne was rebranded and made way for the self-service friendly GoBusiness Licensing Portal. Muis worked with Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) to deep dive into the regulatory requirements for the halal food sector, reviewed how to streamline regulations as well as simplify and automate processes from the businesses’ perspective.

A unique feature of the portal is the Guided Journey, which is a step-by-step guide that helps businesses navigate the licensing landscape to determine the licenses required, and the order to apply for them. This pro-enterprise digitalisation effort creates a simpler, faster and better process for businesses to apply for licenses, permits and certificates from the government. It goes a long way in helping business owners save time and reduce compliance cost so that they can focus on their core business.

The GoBusiness Licensing Portal was launched by the Ministry of Trade & Industry (MTI), Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) and Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) in October 2019.

In an effort to create a pro-enterprise environment for Singapore’s halal food sector, the regulatory process also underwent a transformation so that businesses could save time and avoid unnecessary lapses in halal certification.

Digitalisation – the Key Enabler
To spur productivity, innovation, jobs reskilling and internationalisation, the Food Services Industry Transformation Map (ITM) was introduced in 2016. This ITM aims towards achieving an annual productivity gain of 2 percent without increase in manpower over the next five years.

In support of the Food Services ITM, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), Workforce Singapore (WSG) and SPRING Singapore (now known as Enterprise Singapore), jointly developed the Skills Framework for Food Services. The Framework provides sector-specific information on existing and emerging skills and competencies, career pathways and relevant education and training programmes.

Some of the training courses offered by Warees Halal Limited aim to equip businesses with knowledge and skills. They are approved under the Singapore Skills Development Fund (SDF) and are SkillsFuture Credit claimable. Warees Halal Limited (WHL) has also developed mobile-based courses which “eliminate the need for learning to happen at a set time and a set place”.

Aligned to the ITM, the Industry Digital Plan (IDP) was introduced by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) as part of the SMEs Go Digital Programme that helps to make going digital simple for small and medium-sized enterprises. The IDP provides a step-by-step guide on the digital solutions to adopt at each stage of the F&B enterprise’s growth.

The SMEs Go Digital comprises of the Industry Digital Plan (IDP), Consultancy Services (SME Digital Tech Hub), Pre-Approved solutions by IMDA and government grants such as Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) and Project Management Services.

In 2020, to ramp up Singapore’s smart nation initiative and to help businesses to be more resilient and adapt to new post-COVID norms, the Singapore Government introduced the Digital Resilience Bonus (DRB). The DRB, for a start, targets the food services and retail sectors.

“The focus through the Digital Resilience Bonus has been on F&B and retail because many of these businesses are local, and these sectors tend to be where we have a high concentration of SMEs,” said Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information.

The DRB is given on top of enhanced digitalisation assistance provided under the SMEs Go Digital programme. Food services and retail enterprises that have PayNow Corporate, e-invoicing, and use pre-defined categories of digital solutions for Business Processes, Digital Presence and Data Mining and Analytics can receive bonus payouts of up to $10,000.

Digitalisation is a key enabler for the food services industry to raise productivity and to improve their competitiveness. By strengthening the core capabilities, enterprises will be in a stronger position when venturing abroad to tap growth opportunities.

As Mr Chee said: “Singapore food businesses have a strong reputation for quality and safety. We have a trusted brand name. Our businesses can build on this advantage. Food safety is a key consideration in many parts of the world, and many consumers are willing to pay a premium for quality food with safety assurance. Enterprise Singapore (ESG) helps our companies expand overseas by providing internationalisation support through seminars, business missions, as well as platforms to help our businesses gain brand exposure overseas.”