SMEs in food manufacturing sector get help to innovate

Employees operating an automated breadmaker at BHF. Automated processes have helped the firm to cut costs by about half.
Employees operating an automated breadmaker at BHF. Automated processes have helped the firm to cut costs by about half.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

For the past four years, D'Cake manager C. H. Lim has been searching for a way to extend the shelf life of his company's ang ku kueh.

They usually last only a day, making it hard for his small firm to cope with large orders during festive seasons without hiring extra help.But through a new food innovation project this year, it worked with ingredients manufacturer Faesol to tweak its recipe so the snacks can now keep for three daysusing natural preservatives.

"This means we don't have to rush at the last minute during festive seasons," said Mr Lim. Being able to tap external expertise through the project helped because his firm could not spend much time on research and development.

The project, officially launched yesterday, aims to help 50 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the food manufacturing industry develop healthier products, improve their staff's skills, and become more manpower lean.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said at the launch that food manufacturing is a sunrise industry for Singapore.

He added that SMEs can build on Singapore's reputation for high standards to offer high-quality food to the growing middle class in the Asia-Pacific. "Our food may not be the cheapest in the market, but it is definitely one of the most, if not the most, trusted brands in the entire region," said Mr Chan, who is National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general.

So far, 13 firms have participated in the project and sent 22 of their Singaporean workers to attend a class by Faesol in food product innovation. Baked goods manufacturer BHF took part in hopes of coming up with new products and improving its production processes.

Company director Simon Tay said the firm has since automated some processes, helping to cut costs by about half. It also rolled out new snacks and cookies with less sugar. "We have to transform because the whole world is transforming," he said.

At the event, NTUC's U Associate unit signed an agreement with Singapore Institute of Food Science and Technology to come up with training schemes for food technologists. The two bodies run the project with Workforce Singapore and Faesol under the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme which helps SMEs boost productivity. The industry employed about 40,000 workers last year, and the Government has moved to grow the sector through an Industry Transformation Map announced last Friday. It plans to add 2,000 new skilled jobs by 2020.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'SMEs in food manufacturing sector get help to innovate'. Subscribe