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Two Swiss companies to open innovation centre in Singapore

Republic chosen because of its skilled workforce and advanced infrastructure.

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"Givaudan and Bühler have the ability to invest resources and combine our strengths to support our customers and startups in this area." - Monila Kothari, Singapore-based president,Givaudan's Asia-Pacific flavours division, on the facility which will develop plant-based food with a focus on Asian  markets

SWITZERLAND'S leading global food technology provider, Bühler, and a world leader in flavours and fragrances, Givaudan are joining forces in a partnership to build a new innovation centre in Singapore, which will be dedicated to plant- based food with a focus on Asian markets. The new facility in Givaudan Woodlands is planned to open later this year.

The innovation centre will be jointly run by both companies, bringing together a pilot plant featuring a kitchen and flavour laboratory by Givaudan and Bühler's extrusion and processing equipment. The upcoming facility will be supported by experts from both Swiss companies.

The setting up of the innovation centre is indeed timely as new consumer research has concluded that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on the plant-based meat category for which the market is growing by over 10 per cent annually. The pandemic and the resulting negative association with animal-based food is projected to further boost the market in the next five to 10 years.

Monila Kothari, the Singapore based president of Givaudan's Asia-Pacific flavours division, who helms the project, says: "We aim to welcome food processing companies, startups and university researchers looking to develop novel plant-based food products. Givaudan's flavour, taste, ingredient, and product development expertise, combined with Bühler's equipment and processing expertise, will create a unique offering and synergy that will be greatly advantageous to those developing new products, particularly when using wet or dry extrusion."

Singapore was chosen as the site of the new innovation centre by the two Swiss companies as it is a diverse country at the heart of South-east Asia with strong ambitions for the future of food. The Republic was also picked because of its skilled workforce and an advanced infrastructure that supports innovation and entrepreneurship, Ms Kothari tells The Business Times.

"While we are beginning to see a keen interest in consumer interest on plant protein products here, there is, however, currently no infrastructure present to develop wet extruded products for this category. Givaudan and Bühler have the ability to invest resources and combine our strengths to support our customers and start-ups in this area," she adds.

The two collaborating Swiss partners will be combining their strengths at the innovation centre. Givaudan is a global leader in flavours and taste experiences across key segments including beverages, sweet goods, savoury and snacks, while Bühler is the global leader for food processing solutions.

Market potential

"We see a lot of market potential for plant-based products in the coming years in Asia, in particular the alternative meat sector. The initial focus on extruded products is important as this is a key technology for developing authentic meat alternatives. We have optimised the flavour and taste aspects and are able to make these extruded products extremely delicious for consumers. Our partnership is a testament that industry leaders can come together for the benefit of the whole food innovation ecosystem," says Ms Kothari.

The new innovation centre will be set up with the people, knowledge and equipment needed to solve a variety of plant based challenges. Givaudan already has over 50 experts working at its flavour innovation centre in Singapore and a dedicated team from this group will work along with Bühler experts at the new centre.

"We hope to begin operations in the last quarter of the year as we have originally planned. Once that happens, we will work with our customers and startups to develop their applications and winning products," she adds.

With the opening of the innovation centre the aim is to help manufacturers accelerate the development of consumer preferred plant based meat alternatives. Givaudan's and Bühler's combined expertise in the development and manufacture of plant-based foods will allow for new ranges that cater to Asian tastes, texture expectations and cooking techniques.

Fortunately, plans for the innovation centre have so far not been impacted by the Covid-19 situation. The design plans for the new innovation centre have been finalised and the aim is to open it in the last quarter of the year as originally planned. However, construction work at the facility may be impacted on two fronts: the availability of contractors and whether the worksite can be opened based on local government regulations related to the Covid-19 situation.

Ms Kothari says that according to recent independent consumer market research, the Covid-19 pandemic has in general had a positive effect on the plant-based meat category. The plant-based food market is growing at more than 10 per cent year-on-year. The pandemic and the resulting negative associations with animal-based food will further boost the market in the next five to 10 years.

Consumer expectations

Greater emphasis will likely be placed on ensuring product safety, better nutrition, natural and cleaner labels as the new consumer norm. If manufacturers can meet these consumer expectations, greater consumer shift and acceptance towards plant-based food can occur at an earlier stage, thereby driving manufacturers to accelerate their plans to enter this nascent category.

The new innovation centre's initial focus will be on extruded products which is a key technology for making meat alternatives. Ms Kothari says at the heart of the challenge is that protein in plants comes in tiny spherical particles that have little texture. To create texture water and heat need to be added and the resulting mass has to be kneaded to open up the protein and create a tri-dimensional structure which gives texture.

To do this on a very large scale, an equipment called an extruder is needed which is essentially two screws that convey and knead the dough through a tunnel that heats and cools. At the end there is an orifice where the dough comes out. The two main processes that exist differ in the amount of water that is used: the older process known as dry texturised vegetable protein uses less water and results in a texture that is very useful for making products where fibres are not needed, for example, ground meat.

"The newer process known as wet texturised vegetable protein uses a higher level of water, delivering a product that contains roughly the same amount of water as meat, and a fibrous structure similar to muscle. Our expertise will allow us to support the use of both processes in any application to deliver plant-based meat alternatives," says Ms Kothari.

According to the research done by UBS Future of Foods in November last year, the global plant-based meat category is forecast to reach about US$50 billion by 2025. Asia is estimated to grow from US$3.7 billion in 2018 to US$12.7 billion by 2025. Today, most protein comes from animal sources which pose several issues including those related to health (over-consumption of red meat), environment (green gas emissions), cost, disease, animal welfare and sustainability.

"There are concerted efforts to find plant-based proteins to replace animal proteins, and Givaudan is deeply involved in developing technologies to help meet the taste, texture, juiciness and nutrition challenges. Much of this effort is focused on overcoming issues relating to taste, aromas and mouthfeel. Our flavour technologies are plant-based derived, 100 per cent vegetarian, and natural," says Ms Kothari.

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