From Cell to Table: the Evolution of Food
Dumplings stuffed with meat grown from fish cells in Petri dishes. Alcohol brewed from unwanted tofu whey. In Singapore, a small but growing number of startups are betting that they can change the way we eat. Their work with novel food tech stems from the same concerns. It’s either the environment they’re trying to save from disrepair or the general health of the people.
The murmurs here echo a louder movement in North America, Europe and Israel, where food tech – the re-engineering of food to be healthier or “cleaner” while tasting just as good – has gained a following, and mainstream investors have poured millions of funds into plant-based meat companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
Abhinav Mehra, vice-president of portfolio management at ID Capital, a Singapore-based venture investment and consulting firm, tells BT that 2018 has been a milestone for food tech. Earlier innovations in food supply were concerned with productivity tools or how to connect farmers to markets.
“We’ve passed that phase,” Mr Mehra says. “Now we’re hearing more about how to change what’s on the table. Especially in Singapore, I’m hearing a lot of innovations geared to consumer products. I think 2019 can be a breakout year when you can see a lot more innovations hitting the shelves of 7-Eleven and Cheers, not remaining exclusive and high-value products.”
Established firms up and down the food chain are watching the space closely. Gurpreet Singh Vohra, who helms Wilmar Ventures, the venture capital arm of agri-food giant Wilmar International, says: “There is an increasing awareness in the world that we are what we eat. That has become very clear now.
“Life expectancy has increased many-fold in all markets, so for a company like Wilmar in the basic food ingredients space, it becomes very important to look at healthier protein, fibre, carbohydrates.”
For serious investors, food tech is not about digital solutions, food delivery apps or vending machines. An iPad that takes orders at a restaurant is a productivity tool, not innovation.
Foodtech is about food reformulation, using new processing technologies to improve the flavour, nutritional value or shelf life of food, and finding novel ingredients and methods that could fundamentally change food production.
Dr Rebecca Lian, a food technologist who heads the WIL@NUS Corporate Laboratory opened earlier this year, explains: “Foodtech is how you engineer food. In terms of its product design, in terms of its processing, so that you come up with a healthier, nutritious food that is sustainable and yet at the same time delighting consumers.
“For the longest time, we (the food industry) have looked at just satisfying consumers’ tastes. We forgot to address the fact that food has to be healthy as well as tasty.”
Source: The Business Times – Singapore