The foodtech scene in Singapore has recently become a focal point of discussion in the tech, food and investing community. It is no surprise, given the rise of entrepreneurism in the city state that has long boasted itself as a leader in technology and finance in the region, a supportive government (e.g. Health Promotion Board) that has long pushed the country to think beyond geographical boundaries and the affinity the region and country has with food.
“For serious investors, foodtech is not about digital solutions, food delivery apps or vending machines… Foodtech is about food reformulation, using new processing technologies to improve the flavour, nutritional value or shelf life of food, and finding novel ingredients and methods that could fundamentally change food production.” – “From cell to table: the evolution of food”, The Business Times
Foodtech can very broadly defined with any technology that has a remote relation to food, but I quote a business times report on 10 November that “For serious investors, foodtech is not about digital solutions, food delivery apps or vending machines… Foodtech is about food reformulation, using new processing technologies to improve the flavour, nutritional value or shelf life of food, and finding novel ingredients and methods that could fundamentally change food production.”
-update 12 Nov 2018 – Article on “Foodtech slowly devours startup funding in Singapore”
-update 20 Nov 2018 – “Blackbird Ventures leads $6.9m funding in plant-based meat firm Sunfed”
This is where I see the most value in investing in the food space. The barriers to entry to digital solutions are so low and for now, there is not one that is a real disruptor. I am confident I don’t stand alone in the number of food delivery apps I have tried (or not) and iPads in restaurants, while making ordering and staff allocation more efficient, does not really encapsulate what I would call groundbreaking technology. What companies like Shiok Meats do, however, could potentially change the way we interact with food.
Meat substitutes apparently take a lot fewer resources to produce – less water, less land and generates fewer greenhouse gases. I am no expert on this field so I cannot say for sure what the impact, if any, is, but if it can be produced at a large enough scale to be cost-efficient and at the same time does not sacrifice much (hopefully not at all!) of taste, then it could potentially truly be a substitute for meat and not just a fad.
According to Allied Market Research, the global meat substitute market size is expected to be valued at $7.5B by 2025, registering a CAGR of 7.7% during the forecast period (2018‐2025). This consists of a wide variety of products prepared from ingredients derived from plant-based and other organic sources.
“Why am I interested in food?” she said. “We have seen a lot of startups in fintech, artificial intelligence, and even deep tech. But I believe there is a large white space opportunity for startups in Singapore that is under-emphasized, and that’s all about food.” – Virginia Cha, Angel Investor, Adjunct Professor, INSEAD
Who are they?
Founded in 2018 by former A*Star (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) stem-cell biologists Sandhya Sriram and Ka Yi Ling, Shiok Meats is a company that is in the process of developing cell-cultured seafood, specifically focused on the APAC region. It belongs to a group of companies focused on seafood (e.g. Finless Foods), far smaller than the ones focused on red meat and poultry (e.g. Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats, Clara Foods, Just). Like Beyond Meat, it distinguishes itself by non-reliance on GMOs.
In a Cultured Meat Future Food podcast, Sandhya mentioned that APAC has 60% of the world’s population, and they are consuming a lot more food, specifically protein, at a faster pace. The region has historically consumed a lot of seafood, with a lot of coastal areas and islands. Being from India and Ka Yi from Hong Kong, it is their natural playing field. Importantly, the pace at which we are eating meat is not sustainable and it is not clean enough.
As of February 2019, the goal is to be producing commercially viable products by 2020/2021.
What is their value proposition?
With the rise of conscious consumers who ask more questions on the food they eat for health reasons and a desire for sustainable farming, seafood is a category of food that has been in the spotlight for these issues (e.g. farmed-vs-wild, mercury and antibiotic levels, impact on the ocean).
Seafood can be seen as a healthier source of protein as compared to red meat, but at the same time, concerns on mercury levels, sustainability and, of course, cost, have been deterring factors from a switch.
Shiok Meats could potentially tackle all these issues with their non-GMO cell-based seafood. The challenges, however, are how to be able to produce at a large enough scale to be cost efficient, and to educate and sell an idea that is relatively new and I dare say avant-garde, specifically for something like food and eating that is so close to heart and life, particularly for the APAC region that the company is targeting. Sandhya claims that in Singapore, people are more oblivious of cell-based meat and that Shiok Meats is pioneering that there. It is, as she admits, a change in perception, which in my opinion is a huge challenge.
Nevertheless, what I see is a team of extremely motivated co-founders who truly believe in the company’s cause and have the academic expertise which is crucial for the product they are building. I very much look forward to one day have a taste of Shiok Meats and seeing the team succeed in their mission.
For the skeptics out there, many meat substitute products have already hit the shelves of supermarkets and can be found in restaurants. Try it out and I am confident that at least the question of how tasty it is can be answered.
P.s. Sandhya did mention that Shiok Meats is looking for a research engineer who “understands bioprocess technology and how cells grow in a bioreactor” so anyone reading this who is interested do hit her up!
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- Meet the women bringing cell-based meats to Asia
- From zero to hero: How Singapore became SEA’s leading food and nutrition hub in 20 short years