When Philip Gu spoke at IPI’s first Aquaculture Innovation Webinar in March 2021, he never expected that it would jumpstart an exciting collaboration in sustainable food manufacturing. As the CEO of StemCell United (SCU), he had spearheaded the marine plant-based biotechnology company’s foray into food, nutrition, healthcare and cosmetic products. The company had recently set up a seaweed germplasm seed bank and had their sights set on becoming a plantbased food manufacturer using a mix of various microalgae.
As he shared the multiple applications of SCU’s plant-based extracts during the webinar, IPI saw the potential to further their innovation through collaboration. After scanning through possible technology partners within Singapore’s ecosystem, Singapore Polytechnic’s Food Innovation & Resource Centre (FIRC) stood out.
From the first meeting, the synergies were clear. “SCU is a front-runner in marine sustainability,” explains Joel Chan, FIRC’s Project Manager for this collaboration. “Their vision to develop plant-based marine food as sustainable future food options is in sync with our role in co-creating a sustainable ecosystem to address Singapore’s food security goals.”
Following several rounds of discussions, SCU decided to engage FIRC as their food technology consultant to expedite their development of western vegan foods, specifically plant- based fish fingers, sausages, beef and chicken patties. “IPI played an important role in introducing us to FIRC and facilitating the discussions which led to the signing of the product development agreement,” says Gu. “Along with our staff Lee Van Voon and Kris Tan, our team’s end goal is to create high quality plant-based food from the different varieties of macroalgae farmed by SCU and formulate a suitable recipe for mass production.”
After calibrating, ideating and setting project targets, both sides got down to work. FIRC dedicated six professionals including Chan and their Consumer Centric Innovation Manager Chen Ying Jie to accelerate this product innovation journey, which featured regular joint tastings and discussions with SCU to achieve the desired taste profiles. Within six months, the partnership experienced breakthroughs in the development of various plant-based meat analogue products.
With product innovation going according to plan, SCU turned its attention to commercialising their new vegan foods. For this, they teamed up with VeganBurg, a local plant-based burger chain with a presence in Singapore and the United States. “We will co-invest in a plant-based food manufacturing facility in Singapore. The factory will directly supply the ingredients used in all VeganBurg restaurants,” explains Gu. “Hence, FIRC has a critical role in ensuring the product is suited to mass market palates and can be scaled up commercially and globally.”
Buoyed by their initial success, the FIRC team is forging ahead to co-develop more delicious and nutritious products. “The collaboration with SCU has brought about new perspectives and expanded the capabilities of our existing technological solutions. We hope to proliferate the technology to uplift more companies, create more sustainable food options and secure a sustainable food supply for tomorrow,” says Chen.
The future is also not far from Gu’s mind. With the plant-based products coming onstream, SCU expects to expand their team and grow the business further. Beyond the bottom line, the launch of the innovative food items will mark a fulfilment of the company’s larger aim to produce alternative proteins as part of Singapore’s 30 by 30 vision − harnessing the po tential of plant stem cells to nourish both people and planet for the generations to come.