Next Generation Farmers using AgTech to solve Singapore’s 30 by 30 Challenge
This is part of a monthly series brought to you by Innovate 360 on startups in the Singapore food scene. We ask questions in the style of a fire side chat and hear how they disrupt the food industry. This month we feature Nosh Produce, a second generation farmer who is using tech to disrupt the agriculture sector in Singapore with their container farm. By doing so they will be able to provide more varieties of vegetables and solve the 30 by 30 challenge of producing at least 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030.
NOSH Produce was founded by Nicole and Fred, two young entrepreneurs who discovered a keen interest in AgTech while working on their final year project. Since their graduation, have been actively seeking potential opportunities in the growing AgTech Space, hoping to positively impact local food productions. They are currently in the process of setting up their container farms and are looking to launch their first batch of harvest in August 2020.
Nicole and Fred approached Innovate360 to receive mentorship and assistance in applying for the Startup SG Founder’s AMP grant from Enterprise Singapore. They also received some help from the Ministry Trade and Industry’s Pro Enterprise Panel through Innovate 360’s founder, Mr. John Cheng who’s a member. The founders have also been receiving close guidance from one of Innovate360’s mentor, A.Prof Matthew Tan who has been closely guiding them on achieving their business goals and strategies.
1. What is Nosh Produce?
Nosh Produce is a specialty container farm in Singapore that harnesses the use of controlled environment agriculture to locally produce clean, fresh, ready-to-eat specialty greens for the Singapore market.
2. What are your backgrounds?
We both graduated from Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD). Fred specialised in Engineering Product Development while Nicole was trained in Architecture & Sustainable Design.
3. How did you start this business?
We first caught interest in Agriculture Technology during our final year capstone project, where we had the opportunity to work with Samsung to design and develop a home hydroponics system.
After we graduated last September, we decided to give ourselves 6 months to work on developing our own home hydroponics product. Less than 2 months in, we came across the opportunity to learn about Urban Crop Solutions, an established AgTech solutions provider from Belgium. Following a series of market research, email exchanges and a study trip to Urban Crop’s headquarters in early January this year, both of us decided to take this leap of faith, and start our own small-scale commercial container farm business.
Also, we were very lucky to have received strong support from our family and friends, who encouraged us and gave us the courage to pursue this as a full-time business.
4. Why did you get into this business?
After being exposed to the immense potential and opportunities that the Agriculture Technology industry has to offer, especially in a land-scarce country like Singapore, we were certain that we wanted to pursue this field. As such, we were very motivated and excited to seek related opportunities.
We believe the final ‘push’ into this container farming business was when we got to witness for ourselves the quality of produce when we went to visit the urban farmers who were using similar container farm technology in Belgium. We were truly amazed and inspired by the quality, taste and aesthetics of the produce, and wanted to share all this high-tech container goodness with our community in Singapore.
5. What differentiates you from the rest of the food market?
Nosh Produce will be the first commercial container-based farm in Singapore. We aim to leverage on the controlled environment of our container farm to produce specialty greens and introduce new varieties of agricultural produce that are not commonly found in Singapore.
6. What are some of the challenges you face as a food company during the COVID-19 period and how have you re-modelled your business to address these challenges?
Fortunately for us, we are still in the process of operationalising our container farm. Thus, the main bulk of challenges that COVID-19 posed for us lies in the disruptions in global supply chains that led to delays in the procurement of resources, such as seeds etc.
COVID-19 has also pushed us to rethink our marketing plans as well as sales / distribution channels, given the new norms such as online grocery shopping. We can’t wait to launch these plans to the public closer to our product launch date.
7. How has COVID-19 shaped consumer behaviour in terms of food and where are you strategically positioned to meet the changing demands of Consumers?
We see that the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened consumers’ focus on the quality and traceability of the food one consumes, translating to an increasing demand for locally produced, healthy and chemical-free food.
This shift in consumer behaviour synchronises perfectly with what Nosh Produce has to offer – hyperlocal, fresh, chemical-free vegetable produce, that boasts full traceability.
8. Where do you stand in Singapore’s “30 by 30” vision to grow enough food in Singapore to meet 30 percent of the population’s nutritional needs by 2030?
We think that ‘30 by 30’ is a very timely and critical initiative so as to develop and improve Singapore’s self-sufficiency, such that our nation is prepared and ready to tackle any global supply chain challenges in future. The importance in actualising this initiative is further highlighted during COVID-19 as we witnessed many instances of panic-buying, and individuals worrying there is not enough food in Singapore to tide through the pandemic.
9. What entrepreneurs do you admire and why?
In general, we feel that all entrepreneurs deserve admiration and respect in their own ways, for having the courage to challenge the norms and create value for themselves.
However, a particular entrepreneur that both of us look up to greatly is Nicole’s dad, who is also currently our advisor for Nosh Produce. Being an entrepreneur himself, with years of experience in the aquaculture farming field, he taught us the importance of taking calculated risks as well as being daring enough to make tough decisions and go through with them. We also learnt the important values of determination and self-discipline through his personal starting-out experience, where he overcame countless challenges and rejections when entering a new market.
10. Can you walk us through how a customer can use your product?
As our produce is fully grown, harvested then packaged in a zero-pesticide, controlled environment, they require no washing and are best enjoyed as they are when purchased.
11. What are some challenges you think the next generation will face with our food?
The expected exponential growth in global population, coupled with the growing unpredictability in climate changes, raises uncertainties in the ability of current food production capabilities to feed the growing population.
In our opinion, the challenge the next generation faces would be to innovate, develop and adopt more efficient food production methods, and concurrently reduce food waste significantly, so as to ensure sufficient global food supply.
12. Would you say that your business has become your past-time?
Definitely! We are firm believers that ‘fun’ and ‘joy’ are secret ingredients to effectively complete any tasks, be it completing a project or building a business.
13. What are some of your long-term goals as entrepreneurs?
Locally, a long-term goal for us would be to grow Nosh Produce into Singapore’s preferred choice for specialty crops. And we definitely hope to expand our brand out of Singapore, and gain presence in other urban cities.