Extending shelf life with food science and technology
First Gourmet CEO Joseph Lee saw the growth potential for his Indian food in overseas markets from the international franchise requests that he received. However, the sauces that are instrumental to the dishes served in First Gourmet’s award-winning restaurants – Prata Wala, Zaffron Kitchen and Pavilion Banana Leaf – needed to be kept frozen to maintain its integrity. Frozen storage and cold-chain logistics required for First Gourmet’s sister company and main supplier, FG Food Industries to export the sauces will drive up the cost significantly and make it difficult to ship in small trial quantities. Through the IPI Innovation Advisors Programme, Lee got in touch with Dr Rebecca Lian, who lent her expertise in food science to convert the company’s frozen sauces into shelf-stable products—paving the way for the company’s international expansion.
Overcoming cold chain challenges
Transporting frozen products overseas involves maintaining correct temperatures throughout all stages of the process, from production to storage and distribution, Lee explained. Due to the high costs of cold chain logistics, FG Food missed an opportunity to pursue a partnership with an international fast-food chain two years ago.
“They enquired about using some of our sauces for their restaurants in the region. Due to cold chain problems, we were only able to supply to the local business” said Lee. “If we had shelf-stable products, we might have been able to do more.”
At room temperature, FG Food’s frozen sauces will degrade due to bacterial growth. So the challenge presented to Dr Lian was to improve the products’ stability at room temperature without compromising on taste.
Despite the complexity of the problem, Dr Lian was quick to figure out an optimal combination of parameters, such as acidity, salt content and temperature, to inhibit bacterial growth without the need for chemical preservatives. The next stage of shelf-life testing was simply a waiting game to observe whether the taste of the sauces would deteriorate over time. Today, six of FG Food’s sauces have been successfully tested for shelf-stability that can be stored at ambient temperature for nine to 12 months with no quality degradation.
The fast and fruitful conversion instead of the typically longer trial-and-error process is a testament to Dr Lian’s technical expertise, accumulated from nearly 40 years in the food sector. From beverage and culinary to confectionery and nutritional products, Dr Lian has been the driving force behind a variety of food and beverage products, most prominently in manufacturing, operations and research and development for Nestlé in China. Due to her extensive industry experiences, Dr Lian is able to identify several ways to improve a food product within a short time.
Recipe for success
Beyond having readily exportable sauces for overseas markets, FG Food’s local operations will also benefit as the company will be able to reduce or avoid costly cold-chain logistics with their shelf-stable sauces. Furthermore, while developing shelf-stable sauces was a one-off project, understanding the science behind the exercise has been invaluable for FG Food’s production team, Lee shared. By providing resource materials and guidance to FG Food’s R&D team, Dr Lian enabled the team to acquire fundamental skills in food technology.
“Dr Lian enhanced our capabilities and know-how. It’s not just about the use of machines, but a way of thinking and the ability to do things on our own,” said Lee. The knowledge gained will be applied to develop new products in the future, he added.
Whether it is extending the shelf life of packaged meals, redesigning packaging or formulating the perfect go-to-market strategy for new offerings, Dr Lian is keen to share her knowledge and help enterprises turn innovative food products into commercial successes. “I’ve not just done science in a laboratory with test tubes; instead, I’ve always done science with the aim to create an impact on the market,” she said.
Do you want to leverage food science and technology to harness new business opportunities? Improve your production processes and launch your products successfully with expert guidance from an IPI Innovation Advisor here.
About the Featured IPI Innovation Advisor, Dr Rebecca Lian
Dr Rebecca Lian is a veteran and expert in the food industry and presently holds the position as Head of Applied Food Research Centre at C-SAW (Centre for the Spread of Affordable Wellness) as well as Innovation Advisor with IPI. She was also recently appointed as an Adjunct Assoc Professor at the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at Nanyang Technological University.
About the IPI Innovation Advisors Programme
IPI instituted its Innovation Advisors Programme, in partnership with ESG, in late 2019 to enable business transformation among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as they embark on product, process or business model advancements. A pool of Innovation Advisors, who are experienced industry professionals with strong technology expertise, connections and business acumen, will be able to help these companies achieve accelerated growth.