Agri-food sector growing rapidly in S'pore with drive towards sustainable food innovation

(From left) Timo Recker and Andre Menezes, both founders of Next Gen Foods with Claudia Lee, food technologist for the plant-based food company. ST PHOTO: THADDEUS ANG

SINGAPORE - As the world grapples with challenges to food supplies such as climate change, Singapore has been shoring up its food security through agri-food innovation.

The agri-food ecosystem in the Republic has been rapidly developing, with more innovative companies setting up here and coming up with technologies that contribute to better production yield and more sustainable food solutions.

The sector was one of those in which Singapore drew new fixed asset investments last year, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) noted in its annual year-in-review on Wednesday (Jan 26).

Singapore garnered $11.8 billion of investment commitments in 2021, with projects expected to generate $16.8 billion in value-added a year when fully implemented.

The high-tech agriculture sector in Singapore is expected to create about 4,700 jobs by 2030.

Among firms driving Singapore's agri-food sector growth is plant-based food manufacturer Next Gen Foods, which launched its chicken alternative TiNDLE in Singapore last March. The product is currently available in around 200 restaurants across Asia and the Middle East.

The Singapore-based start-up is opening a new research centre in partnership with the Food Tech Innovation Centre in Singapore later this year to focus on research and development (R&D) and product innovation.

"This will be our launchpad for the development and trial of new products, as we expand our portfolio of plant-based foods - including meat, seafood and dairy - for consumers around the globe," said Next Gen Foods chief operations officer Alex Ward.

The firm is also looking to launch TiNDLE in the United States early this year and plans to expand to Europe by the end of the year, he added.

While Next Gen Foods' product R&D is done in Singapore, its production facility is in the Netherlands.

Food technologist Claudia Lee works on new product development at Next Gen Foods, researching and developing new plant-based products to address global consumer demand.

The 24-year-old, who studied food and life sciences at the National University of Singapore and trained at a culinary school for 1½ years, was introduced to alternative proteins during an internship with a cultivated meat company in 2020.

"Working with plant-based meats drew my interest, and this has shown me how my complementary skills in food science and the culinary arts can be a great benefit to product development roles," she said.

Ms Lee deals with all parts of the R&D process, including product development, trials, full-scale production, and exploring new technologies and ingredients in alternative proteins.

Ms Lee said she looks forward to welcoming new food technologists to the team - Next Gen Foods is expanding its R&D team globally this year - and sharing what she has learnt with them.

"I'm heartened to see this industry growing around the world and that I get to play a part in this mission to fix a broken food system through innovation," she said.

Food technologist Claudia Lee works on new product development at Next Gen Foods. ST PHOTO: THADDEUS ANG

Another company spearheading food innovation in Singapore is German multinational Cremer, which has set up a joint venture with Temasek's Asia Sustainable Foods Platform. The joint venture, Cremer Sustainable Foods, looks to grow contract manufacturing capabilities for plant-based protein products in Asia.

Cremer Sustainable Foods is currently constructing a plant-based food manufacturing facility in Tuas West Drive which will be able to produce around 1,000 tonnes of vegan and vegetarian products a year.

The facility is expected to start production and export in Asia in the first half of this year, said Mr Damian Krueger, general manager at Cremer Nutrition.

The set-up will focus on high moisture extrusion technology, a relatively new method of producing texturised proteins that more closely resemble the texture of chicken or fish, he said. He added that the facility can cater to the demand for both semi-finished and finished products such as plant-based nuggets, patties or other minced food products.

"Our set-up will enable companies in the plant-based food ecosystem to make the leap from pilot scale production to commercial scale production," he said.

Cremer believes that the agri-food ecosystem in Singapore will continue to be at the forefront of the alternative protein industry, driven by businesses' improvement, consumers' growing sophistication and the Government's support, Mr Krueger added.

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