We’re getting closer to a future where food won’t kill us or the planet as lab- grown meats, plant-based proteins, cloud kitchens and vertical farms become more normalised in our daily lives.
Whether that future arrives in time to save the hundreds of millions who will continue to suffer from acute hunger when the world’s population reaches an all- time high in 2050 will depend on whether enough people care to act.
Many foodtech heroes in Singapore are creating sci-fi-worthy miracles. If John Cheng and Tan Da Peng have anything to say about it, that number will grow. Cheng is the founder and managing director of Innovate 360, the country’s first food accelerator. Tan is co-founder and board director at Ambrosia Capital Holdings. They started the Asia Food Sustainability Fund by combining Cheng’s industry connections and infrastructure with Tan’s finance expertise.
“According to the United Nations, the world population will reach 9.8 billion by 2050. However, we will not be able to feed all of them due to factors such as inefficient supply chains, climate change, and people moving away from farming to urban living,” Cheng explains. “We are investing in Asian start-ups or those that are focused on the Asian market to assist in solving this problem.”
The fund would not have launched at all if not for the pandemic. “Before Covid-19, things were already going well,” Cheng says of the 50-odd start-ups residing within Innovate 360. “However, the pandemic accelerated things. The panic it caused has made many aware of where their food comes from, whether it is healthy, and whether it’s better for the environment. It reset the world.”
Tan hopes the Asia Food Sustainability Fund will encourage the growth of more start-ups and unicorns since there are few food venture funds in Singapore. “We hope they will want them to scale up and commercialise in Singapore. ‘Made in Singapore’ brands can easily be marketed abroad, so we plan to gain traction here before venturing into bigger markets like China and the US,” he adds.
The fund covers four sectors. Deep tech projects include cell-based meats, microalgae, and fermentation. Then there is agritech (such as aquaculture and vertical farming) followed by fast-moving Consumer packaged goods (such as kombucha, plant-based cheese and eggs), and Food sustainability (which will focus on recycling food waste). Sustainability is what ties them all together, Cheng says. For him, the most important test to pass is taste. “We can look at things like marketing and branding. However, customers are more likely to repurchase your product if they like it.”
Now that things are on a fast track, the pair has high hopes for the future of food. “I don’t think food will get simpler. The sensory experience and nutrition will never change,” says Cheng.
“I would like to see more research on insect proteins. They are very sustainable and have many amino acids. They will be the next big thing, along with cell-based meats. In addition, I’d like to see more plant-based foods for Asian palates since I’m not a big fan of burgers.”
Tan suggests: “Before we talk about plant- or cell-based meat, we should create foods without common allergens, so everyone – especially children – allergic to things like eggs, dairy or nuts, can eat whatever they wish.”
Cheng and Tan are both confident the fund will make a difference. “We’re both young and eager to conquer the world,” laughs Cheng. “Singapore’s focus on sustainability and 30 by30 goal of producing at least 30% of Singapore nutrition by 2030, has made the timing ideal for the funding.”