New processing plant offers Singapore's food manufacturers a longer shelf life

A new high-pressure processing plant at Warehouse Logistics Net Asia in Buroh Lane was officially opened on April 16, 2018.
A new high-pressure processing plant at Warehouse Logistics Net Asia in Buroh Lane was officially opened on April 16, 2018.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - Sending coconut drinks to Thailand so they can be processed to prolong their shelf-life is an expensive business.

So for local firm Siam Coconut, a new high-pressure processing (HPP) plant officially opened on Monday (April 16) could prove a godsend.

The HPP Resource Sharing Facility in Jurong transfers packaged food to a special pressure chamber filled with chilled water.

The 15-minute process can at least double a food product's shelf life and, for the consumer, guarantee food safety without the use of heat or chemicals.

Siam Coconut said it now plans to process 30 per cent of its drinks here, which will save it $4,000 for every five tonnes it produces.

Although two other companies have HPP facilities in Singapore, the shared plant in Jurong is the first open for use across the entire food manufacturing industry here.

It is owned by Warehouse Logistics Net Asia (WLNA) which set it up in collaboration with Singapore Polytechnic's Food Innovation Resource Centre (FIRC) and with the support of Enterprise Singapore.

FIRC director Ms Loong Mann Na said the HPP process "results in healthier products as no preservatives are used and heat-sensitive nutrients are retained".

She added that the facility offers business opportunities for companies manufacturing products like cold-pressed juice. "Its shelf-life increases from two days to 60 days, which means it can even be exported," said Ms Loong.

WLNA managing director Mr Johnnie Png believes the facility will improve food safety and also reduce food waste here.

Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Ministry of Trade and Industry, said: "This will provide our companies with an edge in their exports, and in particular in going global."

She added that Singapore's exports make up more than half of the country's food manufacturing industry's sales today.

Other resources offered in the facility include services to support companies' distribution and export needs such as adequate cold storage space, as well as cold chain logistics capabilities to preserve freshness and quality.

The pay-per-use system ranges from $130 to $190, depending on the number of cycles a company signs up for. Each cycle can take up to 300 litres of food product.

The public-private initiative is in line with the Food Manufacturing Industry Transformation Map (ITM), launched in 2016, which aims to develop Singapore into Asia's leading food and nutrition hub.

A key focus is boosting innovation to enhance global competitiveness.

Five companies have been using the facility since February and another 20 have expressed interest in using it.

Next month WLNA hopes to launch a website offering online booking facilities and cost-benefit analysis features.

WLNA stated that the equipment in the facility cost $2 million.

Mr Ong Bee Chip, managing director of Golden Bridge Foods, estimated that HPP will mean production costs for "higher-value products like meat" will go up by 10% in the short term and said his company will have to educate consumers about the technology's benefits.

But in the longer term there will be significant cost savings from products having longer shelf-lives, allowing the company to produce in bulk rather than in small batches and also reducing manpower costs from having to restock supermarkets frequently.

Other Enterprise Singapore initiatives offering shared facilities include the Nestlé Quality Assurance Centre of Singapore which lets companies use the food giant's range of analytical services to test their products prior to market launch.

Ms Sim Ann added: "We envisage that with greater access to such facilities that allow our food companies to innovate without having to first incur large capital expenditures, our companies can be nimbler and more innovative."