New $13m shared facility for small-batch food production gives boost to local food innovation

DPM Heng Swee Keat takes a closer look at the steam jacketed machine at the official opening FoodPlant on April 22, 2022 ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
A demonstration of the extrusion machine at the official opening FoodPlant on April 22, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
The 1,107 sq m FoodPlant facility in Senoko Drive operates on a pay-per-use basis. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Local companies will now be better equipped to innovate and develop food products, with the launch of a new $13 million shared facility for small-batch food production.

The 1,107 sq m FoodPlant facility in Senoko Drive operates on a pay-per-use basis which allows firms to test products in small batches without a huge initial capital outlay.

It is expected to benefit at least 200 food manufacturers and support the development of at least 400 new food products by 2026.

It was jointly launched by the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), Enterprise Singapore (Enterprise SG) and JTC Corporation on Friday (April 22), and will help further Singapore's food innovation scene.

Firms will be able to utilise the equipment on site, tap research and development consultancy services, as well as attend training and upskilling courses in food innovation.

Food products that are manufactured in the facility can be sold commercially, as FoodPlant is licensed by the Singapore Food Agency.

Companies will be able to trial new products in small batches and sell them to consumers to test the market. This means that firms can get feedback on their products at an early stage, enhancing the product development process.

The launch of the facility, attended by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore Jo Tyndall, comes about four years after a memorandum of understanding was signed between the three organisations to set up the shared facility for small-batch production.

The development of FoodPlant, a subsidiary of SIT, was delayed in part owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Enterprise SG provided funding support for the facility.

In his remarks at the opening ceremony, Mr Heng outlined Singapore's efforts towards food security, including making research and development in food a key part of the country's research efforts.

At the same time, commercialisation is key, and a network of shared facilities will help firms get to market more quickly as it mitigates the usually prohibitive cost of food innovation, he said.

Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, urged more companies to tap FoodPlant to advance their capabilities and forge partnerships. 

“Singapore, with our high food safety standards and diverse cuisines, is well placed to build on our trusted brand and export our food products to the region and beyond.”

Among the equipment available at the facility is a twin-screw extruder, which uses high moisture extrusion technology to texturise plant-based protein to make meat and seafood alternatives. This technology can be used to make meat-like products with textures resembling that of chicken or fish.

FoodPlant also has a retort machine, which provides commercial sterilisation of food to extend the shelf life of products stored under ambient condition, and analysis instruments which help firms determine the characteristics of food products to monitor their quality and safety.

Firms and individuals can rent equipment at FoodPlant for about $700 to $1,100 per day. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Firms and individuals can rent equipment at FoodPlant for about $700 to $1,100 per day, and those who are FoodPlant members receive a discount on the services.

Close to 20 members, a mix of multinational corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises, have signed up to date.

SIT president Chua Kee Chaing said that the facility is a key component of the university's sustainable food innovation programme which aims to help local companies grow and innovate through food technology.

"Its affordable, pay-per-use model lowers the barriers to market entry, such as high upfront costs in setting up a manufacturing plant or being charged for minimum order quantities when using commercial food processing equipment," he said.

FoodPlant staff will supervise users when they are operating the equipment at the facility. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

FoodPlant staff will supervise users when they are operating the equipment at the facility, and provide training and guidance on how to use the machinery, said FoodPlant chief executive Lim Bee Gim during a media briefing.

Eight full-time employees, including engineers and technical specialists, are based in FoodPlant. The facility also taps academic and corporate staff in SIT, and students at the university will get industry experience on site.

Dr Lim emphasised that the facility is not intended to function as a contract manufacturer, but rather is focused on imparting capabilities to firms and individuals.

"Through this process of knowledge transfer... the companies will gain knowledge and ownership of the product and eventually be more confident in the technical aspects and more ready when they look into setting up their own production facility or expand their current facility," she said.

Enterprise SG managing director and chief operating officer Jeffrey Siow noted that many Singapore companies are developing new products, such as plant-based meat alternatives or cell-cultured proteins, through the FoodInnovate initiative to meet growing consumer demand.

FoodPlant also has a retort machine, which provides commercial sterilisation of food to extend its shelf life. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

FoodInnovate is a multi-agency initiative launched in 2018 to grow Singapore's food manufacturing industry through means such as access to shared infrastructure and industry knowledge. It has supported firms in the commercialisation of close to 400 new products.

"FoodPlant provides these companies access to advanced food processing equipment, technologies and expertise, which in turn enables faster innovation and time to market," Mr Siow said.

On Wednesday, FoodPlant and SIT signed an agreement with Foodbowl New Zealand, a government supported, pilot-scale food processing facility located in New Zealand.

The agreement will see the parties collaborate to develop capabilities in food innovation and manufacturing across shared facilities. They will share knowledge and help each other extend their industry networks.

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