Singapore firms eye Central Asia’s growing consumer market for expansion

Astana Mall, Kazakhstan, Image via Flickr

Central Asia, a region known for its landlocked countries, may not be the most obvious choice for Singaporean businesses looking to expand their horizons. However, Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG) believes that the area’s growing consumer market and young population can offer early-mover advantages for companies, particularly in sectors such as urban infrastructure, technology, and innovative consumer products.

Despite Central Asia’s strategic location and abundant resources, it may still take some effort to persuade Singaporean firms seeking overseas diversification to explore the region. Clarence Hoe, executive director for Americas and Europe at EnterpriseSG, explained that many Singaporean companies would naturally consider countries in nearby regions first, as these are more familiar and are also experiencing growth, particularly in South Asia.

EnterpriseSG’s role is to identify new, growing areas and share them with companies, helping to provide new markets for growth and diversification. Kazakhstan, one of Central Asia’s largest economies, is Singapore’s biggest trading partner in the region, with over 30 Singaporean companies operating in the country and more than 20 in neighbouring Uzbekistan.

To help more local firms expand and enhance their supply chain resilience, EnterpriseSG is organising seminars and trade missions for Singaporean businesses to connect and collaborate with Central Asian partners. Some companies that have already expanded into the region, such as Singapore-listed food manufacturing and distribution firm Food Empire, have seen their efforts pay off.

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Having identified an opportunity nearly three decades ago, Food Empire’s coffee products are now available in stores and supermarkets across Kazakhstan. Anil Bhuwania, business head of Central Asia at Food Empire, said their business has been growing year on year, with their market share for coffee mixes increasing from 67% to 73% in the last four years. The company is now looking to introduce tea products, particularly tea with milk.

However, logistics and transportation remain a challenge, as Bhuwania explained that they need to find alternative routes, either via China or Georgia, to transport goods into landlocked Kazakhstan.

Over the past eight years, tour agency Aveneer DMC has been bringing visitors from Singapore to Kazakhstan, and interest in travel to the country has been growing, especially from businesses. Queenie Lee, director at Aveneer DMC, said they have had requests from various sectors, including food and beverage, alcohol companies, real estate developers, and restaurant tourists looking to set up in Kazakhstan, reports Channel News Asia.

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