(Originally published on SFA Facebook)
Known to many as a nation of foodies, we are one to take our food seriously. From that perfectly grilled salmon topped with a poached egg, to that flavourful plate of char kway teow — we always seem to be searching for the next highly raved dish to sink our teeth into.
While food is always on our mind, not many of us may have thought much about Singapore’s food security.
For Lim Yee Liang, his role as SFA’s Food Businesses Manager has allowed him to contribute towards strengthening Singapore’s food security — by working closely with importers to diversify their sources. Read on to find out what are the tools he considers most important in his work.
BUILDING A NETWORK
The equivalent of an account manager for egg importers in Singapore, Yee Liang works closely with the industry to help identify and explore new sources.
“Diversification of food sources is important as it provides alternate options to tap on if supply from traditional sources is disrupted. Beyond food security, it will also strengthen business resilience. My team has been encouraging our importers to diversify and put in place business continuity.”
TOOL #1: MATCHMAKING
To support importers in their diversification efforts, Yee Liang and his team organize and facilitate food sourcing activities regularly. These include trade events and business matching between industry players, such as food importers, retailers, and potential overseas exporters.
During these sessions, he matchmakes local egg importers with exporters overseas to encourage them to explore new sources for supply of eggs to Singapore.
He also shares with importers the list of accredited sources and contacts they can tap on, links them up with freight companies and encourages major supermarket chains to support the importers’ plan.
Just like any other matchmaker, it is most rewarding for Yee Liang when he sees his efforts bear fruit – when a local importer successfully brings in eggs from a new source overseas.
EGGING ON THE INDUSTRY
To facilitate importers in diversifying, SFA has been accrediting new egg sources that meet our food safety standards. Yee Liang has also led two sourcing trips to Australia and Thailand this year for egg importers to explore new sources.
Much coordination and planning goes behind the scenes for these trips — not unlike that of a travel agency.
“When identifying new sources for our egg importers, we have to work with the trade embassies in the source country. We also have to liaise with the exporters overseas for them to host our egg importers, and look into flight and accommodation options for our egg importers. All these take about a month or more to plan and coordinate.”
His hard work has paid off, with more local importers beginning to import eggs from non-traditional sources such as Thailand, Australia and Ukraine.
“Slowly but steadily, we can diversify further and reduce reliance on any one source for food security. The value of diversification is most obvious in situations out of our control. Recently, an importer shared with me that he had to quickly place an order from Thailand to meet demand, as supply from his usual source was disrupted. Such incidents reaffirms my appreciation of diversification for food security and business continuity.”
TOOL #2: EMPATHY
As part of our source diversification strategy, SFA introduced new licensing requirements for egg importers to adopt business continuity plans (BCP) to mitigate the impact of food supply disruptions.
“Asking importers to change their tried-and-tested methods is not a walk in the park. Some may be apprehensive about the new requirements. Some may need more guidance on how to go about meeting the requirements.”
Faced with such situations, Yee Liang listens patiently to the importers to understand their concerns and tries to find ways to help them.
“When we are able to empathize with the importers, it enables us to gain a better understanding of their difficulties and concerns. That way, we can better support them. We also try our best to help them understand why it is important to diversify and put in place business continuity plans. Having eggs in different baskets is a win-win for all."
A TWO-WAY DIALOGUE
With a background in Communications, Yee Liang puts the skills he has honed to good use when interacting with egg importers.
Yee Liang and his team organises engagement sessions with the industry regularly – a platform for the industry to highlight the issues they face, and offer suggestions on areas for improvement or development.
TOOL #3: A LISTENING EAR
When gathering feedback about policies and the industry, Yee Liang finds that the key is in knowing the right questions to ask and listening to what the importers have to say.
“In our engagement with the importers, we are always looking to hear what they have to say. That way, we are able to gather feedback from the industry and gain insights on how we can help them better.”
The affable manager shares that having a friendly and approachable demeanour helps with building a connection with the importers.
“Some of the older importers probably see me as their grandson or son, and when you are approachable, they feel comfortable to speak candidly about their thoughts and share their experiences with you.
This sense of connection to the importers and understanding of the realities on the ground are useful in helping us learn and support the industry.”
THE UNASSUMING ‘EGGS-PERT’
When Yee Liang first started out, he had close to zero knowledge about the egg industry. The importers were mostly veterans in the industry with decades of experience under their belt.
How did the 28-year-old convince the older egg importers he had the knowledge and capability to help them diversify?
“Many of the importers have been on the ground for over 20 to 30 years and are very experienced. But we can always listen and offer them new perspectives or suggest ways for them to improve their businesses. And over time as you build your knowledge and capability, it helps to cement your credibility as well.”
TOOL #4: VERSATILITY
In the course of his work, Yee Liang has had to put on multiple hats — matchmaker, tour guide, help desk.
Various egg importers approach him on different issues they face on a day-to-day basis.
“One importer could be calling me with questions about import permits, and the next moment, another importer could be calling me to check whether they are allowed to import from certain countries or farms.”
Each time, he tries his best to help the importers with their questions. He also keeps up to date with the latest in the industry and learns from fellow colleagues to build up his knowledge.
“I gain the most insights from my conversations with the various egg importers. Many of them are happy to share and impart their knowledge if you’re willing to listen and learn.”
Over time, he has gained the confidence and trust of importers by proving to be a reliable ‘account manager’.
He added: “I enjoy meeting and talking to people, so it’s nice that I get to do both of that in my work, while simultaneously supporting our importers in enhancing Singapore’s food security.”