Nestle joins hands with A*Star on food research

Food giant can tap local expertise; scientists get global R&D exposure

Nestle, the world's largest food company and maker of local staples such as Milo and Nescafe, has joined forces with government research scientists here.

Its wide-ranging, three-year agreement signed yesterday with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) will see scientists from both sides conduct research on ingredients - looking into the science behind them and their manufacture - and the connections between diet and disease.

Funding details were not disclosed but the agreement will enable the Swiss-headquartered giant to tap expertise in all 18 of A*Star's research institutes.

This makes it only the third firm, after Proctor and Gamble and General Electric, to enjoy such a high level of access to A*Star's resources.

A*Star's institutes are involved in a range of scientific disciplines, from molecular and cell biology to materials engineering and high-performance computing.

The agreement might have, for instance, the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology studying food at a cellular level, and data analytics done at the Institute of High Performance Computing.

Sharing this depth of science knowledge "previously used primarily in the pharmaceutical industry" would help improve understanding of links between health, nutrition and disease, said Dr Benjamin Seet, executive director of A*Star's Biomedical Research Council.

In return, A*Star scientists will get opportunities to work with Nestle's research and development (R&D) teams around the world.

While nutrition at all ages will be a major focus of the joint research, Nestle will not compromise on taste, said its global head of research and development, Mr Johannes Baensch.

"This is about food as pleasure as well," he said. "You need to have tasty products, otherwise the consumer will not buy the products."

He added that having scientists from both sides team up could mean achieving "a quantum leap" in food science research.

Nestle ranked ninth in last year's Financial Times Global 500 listing of the world's largest companies, with a market capitalisation of $233.8 billion.

It has more than 300 scientists in countries such as Switzerland, the United States and Singapore.

Last May, it announced a $5.5 million expansion of its R&D centre here, which focuses on research in Milo and Nescafe.

davidee@sph.com.sg