SINGAPORE: Food manufacturers, start-ups and researchers looking to develop and test plant-based food products can turn to a new facility in Woodlands which will open in April.
The facility is jointly set up by Swiss companies Buhler, which is a factory equipment manufacturer, and flavour and fragrance maker Givaudan.
Around 20 to 30 companies, including global food manufacturers and start-ups, have requested to use the innovation centre, which is located at Givaudan’s Woodlands office, said Mr Alex Ward, Givaudan’s head of regional innovation for its Asia-Pacific taste and wellbeing business.
The site is also open to researchers and will host one client at any one time to make sure their intellectual property is protected.
The innovation centre’s main purpose is to allow clients to see what happens to their product when it is manufactured in large volumes.
“You can imagine if you run it on a benchtop machine, your parameters will be completely different (than if produced on a mass scale). Some tastes (and texture) can evolve differently if you do something on a big scale,” said Buhler’s Southeast Asia & Pacific head of technology Dominique Kull in an interview with CNA on Friday (Jan 15).
The centre will house an extruder - a machine that turns extracted plant proteins into meat-like structures or what Mr Kull likens to a “pressure cooker” - which can run at up to 50 kilogrammes an hour.
Other amenities include a test kitchen and teleconferencing equipment that companies can use to conduct cooking demonstrations and remote training sessions with.
Mr Ward and Mr Kull added that the two companies will have food and machine experts including marketing specialists, process technologists and food scientists whom clients can consult with. They can also help connect clients to other stakeholders in the industry, such as raw material suppliers if the companies want to purchase ingredients in bulk.
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The innovation centre was initially set to open last year, but COVID-19 delayed the construction of the 4,000 sq ft site, which takes over from a Givaudan fragrance facility that moved to Jurong.
“I think to begin with, we will have some of our global customers coming in to extend their product lines or maybe improve their existing products, and we will have start-ups - we are looking for good quality start-ups with solid funding, with good minimum viable products,” Mr Ward said.
The goal of the innovation centre is to boost the two companies' bottom lines as well as to help new entrants speed up their development process, he added.
“We want people to develop products that meet all of these consumer needs … so that we can sell our ingredients (and) for Buhler it’s to sell equipment (and) that’s the commercial reality,” he said.
“The world is much more agile, much more competitive, and this is where the start-ups are exciting to work with (because) now they have a place where they can work at whatever speed they want."
As for why the two companies chose Singapore to house its plant-based food centre, they pointed to the country’s cultural diversity and burgeoning food technology scene.
“Most of the plant-based products coming into Singapore today are very Western-focused,” said Mr Kull. “There was a lack of facilities in Southeast Asia, and Singapore being such a melting pot of cultures (with different food trends) is an ideal place to have a facility where we can do trials.”
“That combined with everything that’s going on in the food innovation space with start-ups, but also multinationals who have a lot of R&D centres here,” he added.