Local vs Imported food: Which do most consumers in Singapore prefer and why?
June 28th, 2024, Samuel Tan

Local vs Imported food: Which do most consumers in Singapore prefer and why?

Singapore’s “30 by 30” food security goal – of producing 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030 – is facing significant headwinds.

According to the Singapore Food Agency’s latest report, local production of vegetables and seafood decreased last year, and its contribution to food consumption remains under 10%. These latest statistics follow a string of setbacks in the local farming industry:

But, given a chance, do most consumers in Singapore prefer to buy vegetables, eggs and seafood – three foods Singapore seeks to scale production of – that are of local or foreign origin? And how does this compare with their actual frequency of buying local agriculture and aquaculture?

Crucially, what are the main reasons why some consumers prefer to buy local, while others favour imported produce? And what’s most likely to encourage consumers in Singapore to buy more locally sourced foods?

How often do Singaporeans buy local produce – and how many prefer them?

Latest YouGov Surveys research shows that most consumers in Singapore who regularly grocery shop for eggs, vegetables and fish/seafood (once a month or more frequently) buy locally sourced ones at least half of the time.

Eggs have the highest percentage of consumers who regularly buy local: three in four of its regular consumers (75%) say they buy local at least half of the time, with over half (55%) saying they do so all or most of the time. However, only just under half (48%) say they prefer buying locally sourced eggs all or most of the time, indicating a segment of regular consumers of local eggs who do so due to accessibility reasons.

Vegetables are next, with more than two-thirds (69%) of its regular consumers buying local at least half of the time, with just under half (47%) saying they do so all or most of the time. But closer to two in five (42%) say they prefer buying locally grown vegetables all or most of the time.

Seafood consumers who regularly buy local at least half of the time are three in five (61%), with two-fifths (39%) saying they do so all or most of the time. But just a third (33%) say they prefer buying locally farmed fish and seafood.

Eggs also have the highest proportion of consumers who always prefer buying local (20%). About half of consumers are split between preferring local or having no preference (both 48%), with just 4% preferring imported eggs most or all of the time.

But when it comes to vegetables and seafood, most consumers do not have a typical preference (54% and 59% respectively). About a sixth (16%) of regular vegetable consumers say they always prefer locally sourced ones, while an eighth (12%) of regular seafood consumers say the same.

Less than one in ten prefer imported vegetables (4%) and seafood (8%).

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Why do some consumers prefer local – while others imported?

When consumers who preferred buying locally sourced produce were asked why, being able to eat fresher food was the top reason cited across all three foods.

Following at some distance, are being more assured of hygiene safety standards of locally produced food than imported ones and wanting to support local farmers, the next two reasons. While food safety is a slightly more common motivation for buying local eggs and seafood, supporting local farmers is a slightly more popular driver for buying locally grown vegetables.

Lower prices are the next most cited reason for preferring locally sourced than imported produce. For eggs and seafood, better taste/quality of locally sourced ones follow closely after, but for vegetables, preferring locally grown for being pesticide-free / healthier is next in line before gastronomic enjoyment.

About a quarter (25-27%) say they prefer buying local produce in support of Singapore’s food security goals, while around a fifth (19-20%) say they find locally sourced produce more widely available than imported ones.

When consumers who preferred buying imported produce were asked why, responses were more varied.

While lower prices are by far the most common motivation for preferring imported eggs, better taste/quality followed by fresher food and more variety are the main reasons cited by consumers who prefer imported seafood.

Meanwhile, convenience is the top factor consumers prefer imported vegetables – almost half (49%) who prefer imported vegetables point to their wider availability, ahead of factors like lower prices, better taste/quality and more variety.

Among the three foods, food safety is cited most by consumers who prefer imported seafood (21%), ahead of vegetables (16%) and eggs (9%).

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What would encourage Singaporeans to buy more locally sourced eggs, vegetables and seafood?

When consumers who did not prefer buying locally sourced produce (either preferred buying imported or had no preference) were asked how likely various factors would encourage them to buy local more often, over eight in ten say it’s likely they would do so upon seeing lower prices for local seafood (89%), vegetables (88%) and eggs (86%) – of which over two fifths to just under half say they would be “very” likely to buy more local seafood (47%), vegetables (44%) and eggs (42%).

More information about the quality of local produce is likely to influence their grocery choices of eight in ten for seafood (81%), and around three-quarters for vegetables (78%) and eggs (75%). But those who say they are “very” likely to buy more local seafood (22%), vegetables (18%) and eggs (16%) are closer to a fifth.

More prominent displays of local produce in supermarkets would encourage around three-quarters to buy more local seafood (81%) and vegetables (78%), versus over two-thirds for eggs (68%). However, those who say this would “very” likely get them to buy more local seafood (21%), vegetables (15%) and eggs (12%) are a fifth or less.

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Methodology: YouGov Surveys: Serviced provides quick survey results from nationally representative or targeted audiences in multiple markets. This study was conducted online in June 2024, with a national sample of 842 Singapore residents, using a questionnaire designed by YouGov. Data figures have been weighted by age, gender, and ethnicity to be representative of all adults in Singapore (18 years or older) and reflect the latest Singapore Department of Statistics (DOS) estimates. Learn more about YouGov Surveys: Serviced.

Cover Photo by SFA / Yili Farm