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Bringing soft fruit production to tropical urban regions through franchising

“We want to promote a better kind of strawberry in Singapore,” says Dr. Shengjie Bao, director and co-founder of Singrow Pte Ltd., a Singaporean agtech company specializing in indoor production of strawberries, cherry tomatoes and other products.

Shengjie and his co-founder Xu Tao founded Singrow Pte Ltd. to facilitate the production of imported produce in tropical regions, and what better way to start than with strawberries.

As Shengjie explains that Singapore’s strawberry supply is plagued by three main problems, namely the high costs, inconsistent supply and sourness of fruit due to sourness mainly because of variety issues. As most of the varieties shipped to Singapore are ever-bearing varieties, which by rights are not for direct consumption. 

A fast-breeding system
Using their extensive experience in plant physiology and technology such as molecular breeding, Shengjie and Xu set their sights on bolstering strawberry supply in Singapore by developing a fast-breeding platform, as well as a novel hydroponic system to grow strawberries and other imported produce in Singapore.

And so, Singrow PTE Ltd. was founded and first showcased its technology by growing its proprietary, selectively-bred strawberries in the downtown region of Singapore. Singrow develops its proprietary varieties through marker-assisted cross-breeding and advanced technology (such as CRISPR-Cas9), allowing the company to develop fast-growing and delicious products.

A focus on strawberries
“It took us about 3.5 years to develop our strawberry varieties. We developed varieties that are fast-growing, prefer a lower light intensity and are less sensitive to high temperatures. Also, we only need to provide minimum airflow for pollination; no need to introduce bumblebees, which we couldn’t really do anyways. We fine-tuned all of these parameters purposely,” explains Shengjie.

Since its establishment, Singrow has expanded its product offering to include Cherrito cherry tomatoes, Ruby strawberries, Komatsuna spinach and Crystal white strawberries. These products can all be purchased from their online store, which offers self pick-up and delivery options.

Integrated racking system, ready for expansion
While developing its varieties, Singrow developing its indoor farming technology and spent a year evaluating its control systems and different hydroponic system. Fast forward to present day and the company has a 400-m2 showcase farm, equipped with a 7-m vertical rack system that has 12 tiers. Even as a showcase farm, Singrow’s facility is already one of the tallest vertical growing systems in southeast Asia. The company’s patented hydroponic racks integrate smart control panels for environmental control and data collection, AI-assisted harvesting and pollination.

According to Shengjie, the company is currently raising funds to help it scale quickly and meet the demand for vertical farms in southeast Asia. Singrow plans to establish its first commercial farm in Singapore, then add 8-10 farms throughout the UAE and southeast Asia.

“We are always looking at the Tier 1 cities, such as those in the Batam region of Indonesia. With 20-30 million inhabitants and lots of tourists, it’s a really interesting area for us. Also cities like Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur,” says Shengjie.

Singrow has already expanded to Indonesia, where the company has built a farm that uses the Singrow brand and system. The farm can either sell the strawberry harvest back to Singrow to be marketed through its online store or they can sell the berries locally. Through this franchise model, Singrow plans to have multiple farms operating under its brands and also provide design and supply service to vertical farms.

“In the long run, we don’t want to provide the hardware. There are lots of suppliers in the market that supply high-tech systems. We want to establish a customer base then sell our seeds and simple growing kits. The key strategy of Singrow is product breeding,” explains Shengjie.

For more information:
Shengjie Bao, director and co-founder 
Singrow Pte Ltd.