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24 Aug 2021 Updated 25 Aug 2021

At Alchemy, founders whip up full-flavour dishes without the guilt

The Business Times Samantha Heo

Alchemy Foodtech CEO Alan Phua (left), with Eric Ng, executive director of Swee Heng Bakery
Alchemy Foodtech CEO Alan Phua (left), with Eric Ng, executive director of Swee Heng Bakery, which has introduced Alchemy Fibre, a powdered mix of plant fibres, into its orange and pandan cake recipes. Mr Ng says the improved recipe boosted sales by 10 to 15 per cent. PHOTO: ALCHEMY FOODTECH

Losing both his grandmothers to diabetes was what motivated Alan Phua - the chief executive officer of Alchemy Foodtech - to come up with innovative food solutions to help address the rate of diabetes in Singapore.

Mr Phua and co-founder Verleen Goh, a food scientist by training, spent five years after the company's incorporation in 2015 to research and develop solutions in the area of food science, and to learn more about how food consumption is related to the disease.

One of the hurdles they faced was coming up with healthier food options while retaining as much of the original taste such that enough people would be convinced and willing to make the switch.

"People are trying healthier alternatives like wholewheat bread, brown rice and multigrain, but it doesn't taste as good and the texture is different, so they find it hard to give up regular foods," said Mr Phua.

One of the main products that Alchemy has come up with is Alchemy Fibre, a powdered mix of plant fibres that can be added to common foods like rice or bread. The mix increases the fibre content and lowers the glycaemic index, making it suitable to consume for both diabetics and health-conscious individuals.

Mr Phua and Ms Goh said the team did its best to ensure that when the mix is used in popular local dishes like chicken rice and nasi lemak, as well as cakes, the original taste is retained as much as possible

Using alternatives like multigrain or brown rice, while a step in the right direction, doesn't quite cut it for most Singaporeans who love their food, said Mr Phua.

"While consumers know that these alternatives are healthier, many just don't enjoy it and they hardly buy those alternatives," he added.

Alchemy released its product to the market in August last year and managed to get a buy-in from around 40 corporate clients including Yum Cha, Boon Tong Kee and Raffles Medical. Alchemy's co-founders say their corporate clients have used Alchemy Fibre to provide some 7.8 million healthier meals to date.

One partner, Swee Heng Bakery, recently introduced the powdered mix into its orange and pandan chiffon cake recipes, as part of its participation in Enterprise Singapore's (ESG) FoodInnovate programme.

The programme, a multi-agency national food innovation platform led by the statutory board and launched in 2018, has supported companies with the commercialisation of over 300 new products to date.

And since the start of 2021, FoodInnovate has facilitated about 10 partnerships between companies.

Swee Heng's executive director Eric Ng said the improved recipe boosted sales by 10 to 15 per cent, which he saw as proof that there is a growing demand for healthier products.

Bernice Tay, director of food manufacturing at ESG, said that cost is often a factor that holds companies back from innovation.

"Given the high costs involved in setting up a production line, ESG works with partners to put in place shared infrastructure that could give startups and manufacturers a leg-up and boost efforts to co-produce, test-bed and commercialise new products."

ESG partnered the Food Innovation and Resource Centre (FIRC) to set up the High Pressure Processing (HPP) tolling facility in 2018 to help companies extend the shelf life of their products, while preserving the taste, nutrition and sensory quality of the food.

Companies such as HIC Juice and Golden Bridge have been using the HPP technology to lengthen the shelf life of their cold-pressed juices and clean-label processed meat respectively.

ESG, JTC and the Singapore Institute of Technology will also launch a small-batch food manufacturing facility at JTC Food Hub @ Senoko by the end of this year.

Separately, as part of ESG's efforts to boost food innovation in Singapore, ESG in June launched Asia's Great Snack Challenge, an open innovation challenge that has five corporate partners on board comprising Tong Garden, Mr Bean, Uncle Saba's Poppadoms, Haidilao and Polar. 

The challenge, open to both start-ups and individuals, is to come up with innovative snacks that can sell well in Singapore and other parts of Asia.

ESG's Ms Tay said more corporates are coming forward to participate as partners or sponsors in this initiative as it presents them a way to "crowd-source ideas" and work with other F&B companies and startups to unlock opportunities in the growing snacks industry.

"Another benefit of partnerships is the potential of an expanded consumer base.

"Companies can combine their strengths, capabilities and networks to collectively reach new consumer segments," she said.

She cited the example of Irvins, which worked with Pezzo earlier this year to launch a salted egg pizza."

This collaboration has allowed both companies to co-brand, expand product range and capture the interest of consumers who are seeking new experiences," she said.

Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.