With more food companies marrying innovation and technology with zero-waste production, the food upcycling movement is taking off in Singapore.
A growing crop of food tech start-ups is repurposing ingredients that are usually discarded, into functional food items.
Called food waste valorisation, it involves converting food waste or by-products into higher value products that contribute back to the food supply.
For instance, bread is turned into beer, and protein fibres from spent barley grains (from beer production) are made into noodles.
Okara (soya pulp) and tofu whey - both by-products of tofu manufacturing - can be converted into beverages.
Then there are companies such as Confetti Snacks that source "ugly produce" from farms and wholesalers to create vegetable and fruit chips.
While they are gaining ground on home soil, these businesses are also expanding overseas.
Since starting the business in 2018, Confetti Snacks' founder and chief executive Betty Lu, 34, has seen an average 312 per cent year-on-year growth for sales of its vegetable and mushroom snacks.
She entered the American market in January, and the products have been picked up by large American food distributors such as Gordon Food Service and US Foods, as well as supermarket chains and speciality stores.
She is working with American-Irish agricultural multinational corporation Dole to create a line of gourmet dips and snacks using surplus fruit and nutritive by-products from its manufacturing stream and plantations.
On the upcycling movement, Ms Lu says: "There is an increased demand, awareness and visibility of this issue, and more food companies can come up with innovative solutions to elevate food waste into useful products for consumers."
Crust Group, founded in 2019, upcycles leftover bread and other surplus ingredients from restaurants and hotels into craft beer under its Crust brand.
It ventured into Japan in February last year and works with the likes of The Ritz-Carlton Osaka and Aman Tokyo to have co-branded Crust beer stocked in the hotel rooms' mini bars.
The company will debut Crop - a new line of non-alcoholic drinks upcycled from fruit peel - next month in Japan, and in Singapore soon after.
After Japan, Taiwan beckons by the end of this year, followed by Europe, the United States and China in the next three years.
The pace of production has "increased steadily" since the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, says Crust Group's head of business development Hiroyuki Hirano, and sales are expected to reach more than 200 per cent year on year in the next two years.
He is also looking to tap other avenues such as the e-sports scene, as well as marketing through NFTs (non-fungible tokens).
Four-year-old food tech company SinFooTech (it stands for Singapore Food Technology) is set to launch in China by the end of this year.
Production in Wuhan - shelved due to the pandemic - will not be limited to the company's flagship product, Sachi Soy Wine, which is made from soya whey. It debuted in Singapore last November.
Other alcohol products made from soya whey in the pipeline include whisky, vodka and baijiu (Chinese distilled liquor) - all of which can be produced at a single facility.
Production scale is still small in Singapore, says chief executive Jonathan Ng, 31.
So far, he uses one tonne of soya whey from a local tofu manufacturer every other week. The manufacturer throws out 20 tonnes of soya whey in a day, he says, adding that in five years' time, the goal is to utilise all of the discarded product.
Government agency Enterprise Singapore has been actively supporting the growing number of food tech start-ups.
It bridges the knowledge and technological expertise gap of food manufacturers which may not know how to upcycle their waste, says Ms Bernice Tay, the agency's director of food manufacturing.
It also accelerates the research and development, as well as commercialisation process of the food tech solutions.
Ms Tay adds: "There are promising growth prospects for food tech as climate change and rising business costs have already propelled businesses and consumers to look at sustainability efforts seriously.
"Food companies that find ways to transform waste into useful products will not only generate new revenue streams, but also appeal to the rising generation of conscious consumers."
SACHI SOY WINE
What: The world's first soya alcoholic beverage is made from soya whey, a by-product of tofu manufacturing.
Smooth and light with a honey, umeshu-like finish, the low-alcohol drink (5.8 per cent alcohol by volume) is marketed as wine, although no grapes are used.
There are four flavours - original, lychee and rose, peach and oolong, yuzu and bergamot. Prices start at $15 for a 187ml bottle.
Stronger alcohol such as whisky, gin, sake and baijiu (Chinese distilled liquor) are in the works.
What: Breaking Bread Ale, I Knead An Easy IPA and Toasted Lager - these craft beers with catchy names are made from surplus bread.
Food tech start-up Crust Group works with restaurants and hotels to save excess bread and use it as an ingredient - in addition to malted barley, hops and yeast - in beer-making.
To date, the group has saved more than 2.5 tonnes of bread and other surplus ingredients, and produced nearly 43,000 litres of beverages in the past three years.
Prices start from $36 for a pack of six beers.
The taster bundle (from $39) also includes three cans of Citral - a citrusy beer which uses lemon myrtle from Gardens by the Bay.
Crust beers are available at FairPrice Finest outlets and RedMart, as well as restaurants such as Bistro by Gardenasia and Tiong Bahru Bakery outlets.
The company will soon debut a new brand, Crop, which upcycles food loss such as fruit peel into sparkling fruit drinks. The brand will debut in Japan next month and then in Singapore.
CONFETTI VEGETABLE CHIPS
What: Consider Confetti Snacks your feel-good alternative to the usual potato chips.
These addictive snacks are made from rescued "ugly food". They are available at major supermarkets and convenience stores.
The vegetable chips ($7.50) are a colourful mix of purple sweet potato, carrot, shiitake mushroom and okra, and come in flavours such as teriyaki barbecue, tandoori curry, summer truffle and sea salt.
Flavours for the mushroom chips ($8.50) include green curry, tandoori barbecue, sea salt and an upcoming Balinese spice.
Next up, Confetti Snacks will launch a range of crunchy mandarin orange snacks - made with upcycled excess fruit - in Singapore and the United States.
FIBREWORKS CHOCOLATE COOKIES
What: This chocolate cookie substitute ($8.80 on RedMart) is made from okara, a by-product of soya milk and tofu manufacturing.
The okara is fermented and turned into bio-okara, which is said to contain higher levels of soluble fibre to improve gut health.
It is the first product from bio-tech company Soynergy, which is looking to launch an okara probiotic drink.
Its technology can also be used to repurpose other food by-products such as coffee waste and spent grains.
What: Food tech start-up KosmodeHealth uses protein fibres extracted from spent barley grains to make these starchless noodles, which are specially formulated to meet the nutritional needs of the ageing and diabetic population.
The ready-to-eat noodles ($6.60 for a 200g pack, two servings) can be used for salads, fried or stewed. They were launched for the consumer market in February last year.
KosmodeHealth focuses on upcycling the protein fibre ingredient and offering functional food premixes to food manufacturers. It is working on valorising wheat bran (waste from flour production) and formulating another type of noodle from it.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.