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With a population of only 4.7 million people, Singapore is not a large market. However, with one of the highest per capita incomes, 2010 first quarter growth of 32%, duty free entry for most products, and very transparent import requirements, Singapore is an excellent entry into the fast-growing Southeast Asia region.
With people over 60 years old expected to represent 18% of the population by 2015, and “health” being the most sighted concern among Singaporeans, the food sector’s highest growth rates are expected to be in the healthy, natural, and functional food categories.
Some of the products that have benefited most from this trend have been fruit juices (with an average growth rate of 39%), soymilk (+21%), and most dramatically wine (+214%). Wine is seen as the healthy alternative to beer and hard alcohol with an additional 37% growth expected by 2012. Natural supplements including both Chinese traditional herbs and Western health products are also expected to be some of the hottest categories in the years ahead.


The increasingly urban population of Malaysia (representing 71%) has changed consumer spending patterns, particularly in the food sector where convenience and time-saving have become the biggest selling points. While there has been some ageing of the population, particularly in recent years, over 60% of the population is still under 30. These savvy young shoppers are increasingly seeking internationally recognized brands and products, which provides a great opportunity for U.S. food and beverage exporters.
Despite the consumer sector’s dramatic shift towards convenience and prepackaged products, the food service and Industrial sectors are a significant market for U.S. food ingredients. Malaysia has positioned itself as a safe, Halal food processor for many countries in the region and the Middle East. There are some specialty ingredients that are purchased by Malaysian manufacturers for product that is for export only and never makes it to Malaysian retail shelves.
High import tariffs in Malaysia can affect imported products’ competitiveness. The most important factors in this market are having a recognized Halal certification and a good distributor to get your products in front of customers and decision makers.


The largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia is another significant market in Southeast Asia that should not be ignored. With a population of approximately 230 million, famous tourist destinations such as Bali, and a significant manufacturing sector, Indonesia can be a very attractive market for consumer products, food service, and Industrial ingredients.
Although still a developing country, products that are fortified and functional are the most popular in Indonesia. Prepackaged foods are growing in popularity; however, most Indonesians still prepare food from scratch or purchase ready-to-eat food from street vendors. Rice remains the largest staple here, but meat and dairy products have seen significant growth of 68% and 100%, respectively, in recent years as incomes have risen.
One of the biggest challenges in Indonesia is distribution. As an archipelago consisting of thousands of islands, it can be a challenge getting product from one end of the country to the other, especially if it requires cold storage or to be frozen during shipment. The island of Java – with the two largest cities, Jakarta and Surabaya, and over half the country’s population – would likely be a solid entry point that would allow a U.S. company to enter the market while avoiding significant distribution challenges.
In addition to having a recognized and current Halal certification, there are other unique requirements for the Indonesian market. For most products, local importers need to register the product with the government, a process that can take significant time. Only the registered importer can import the specific product independently. This can cause unique challenges if a U.S. exporter decides that it requires a new Indonesian importer. As always with exporting, careful planning and a thorough assessment of a chosen importer are critical to success for U.S. companies.