29 Sep 2019

Carving a Niche — An interview with Koh Kok Sin of the Food Innovation and Resource Centre


Cooking up fresh ideas
Food enterprises in Singapore can tap into the expertise and resources of the Food Innovation and Resource Centre to develop innovative solutions to their problems.

It might not be the most obvious place to look for innovation, but the aisles of supermarkets are packed with successful food technologies. Extensive research has gone into making food products taste better, last longer and look more attractive, all in the name of capturing market share.

For emerging food enterprises looking to spice up their goods, these considerations may seem overwhelming and out of reach. To help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) launch their own innovation projects, the Food Innovation and Resource Centre (FIRC) was set up in 2007, as a joint initiative by Enterprise Singapore and Singapore Polytechnic.

A centre of excellence for food innovation, FIRC aims to help its clients solve existing problems and adopt the latest practices through an open innovation framework. In this interview with IPI, Koh Kok Sin, Centre Director of FIRC, shares how businesses in the food and beverage (F&B) industry can work with FIRC to create innovative business solutions.


1. What does the Food Innovation and Resource Centre (FIRC) do and what are your key capabilities?

FIRC aims to help food enterprises by being a one-stop technology and resource centre for food innovation. We primarily provide consulting services on areas including product and process development, packaging, process engineering and consumer studies.

The centre is also able to manufacture small quantities of prototypes to enable companies to do market testing. To do so, we have an extensive range of equipment available for leasing, as well as food technologists that can assist with the piloting process. Beyond that, FIRC works closely with government agencies like the Singapore Food Agency to provide certifiable training programmes on various competencies in the F&B industry.


2. What is unique about FIRC’s approach to open innovation?

FIRC is focused on helping SMEs find, modify and develop appropriate solutions, with an eye on adoption, scaling and commercialisation. Our open innovation approach couples our extensive experience with a design-thinking mindset, helping our clients better define and tackle the problems they may be facing. The process, in many cases, involves understanding what the client hopes to achieve first, before applying the necessary scientific approaches to reach the desired outcomes.

As we aim to help local SMEs, we need to bear in mind the constraints that they face, like limited resources or cashflow. To accomplish this, our experienced technologists and engineers aim to provide objective advice and help develop prototypes that our clients can immediately apply. When needed, FIRC also serves as a link to other businesses in the value chain, helping our clients in their journey of open innovation.


3. Kindly share some examples of how collaborations with FIRC have benefited companies.

One successful collaboration was with Cocoba Pte Ltd, the company behind Irvins Salted Egg. Originally sold in tubs, the salted egg-flavoured snacks could only last for a month. It was the collaboration with FIRC that helped to overcome this problem by increasing the shelf life of the products up to a year.

Another collaboration we had was with SMH Foods Enterprise, which was struggling to extend the shelf life of its lor mai kai (savoury steamed glutinous rice) long enough to be exported to places like Australia. After six months of experimentation, the product eventually could be stored for a year at room temperature.


4. What kinds of companies and collaborators are you looking for?

We are open to working with companies looking for technical solutions to address challenges in processing, packaging or consumer market research. Since the initiative begun in 2006, FIRC has worked with more than 700 companies and over 1,500 projects.

With specialties ranging from bakery products to processed meats, we are confident that we can help SMEs develop food innovations and capture new market opportunities.


5. How can companies begin working with FIRC?

For a start, companies can speak to our business development team who will evaluate the problems that they are facing. During this time, the team may visit the company’s facilities to better understand their production methods and capabilities to refine the issue. After a clear problem statement has been produced, our technologists can then advise on the scope of the project before the company decides if they want to enter a collaboration with us.

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