EHL Campus Singapore’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Lab and SGInnovate brought together a panel of four experts to explore the intersection between culinary arts, hospitality and Deep Tech.
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From fermentation to refrigeration—the history of food technology has evolved rapidly. How can food innovators cut through the noise to remain laser-focused on their goals, and what factors must they consider when trying to reach commercialisation?
“Food innovation requires a multi-pronged approach,” explained Arin Naidu, SciTech Engagement Specialist at alternative protein think tank Good Food Institute. “It’s not just novel foods—it’s also optimising traditional forms of making food, incorporating AI and machine learning as well as improving e-commerce.”
Key takeaways from the panel titled Culinary Horizons: Embracing New Tech in Food and Hospitality included:
Why sustainability and specialisation must be top of mind for food technology innovators.
Why collaboration with partners from different corners of the food industry is crucial.
Pointers on how food technology innovators can entice consumers.
(L to R) Panellists Mr Arin Naidu, SciTech Engagement Specialist at the Good Foor Institute APAC; Mr Hiroyuki Hirano, Director of CRUST Japan; Ms Florence Leong, Co-founder and Director of KosmodeHealth; Mr Joff Romoff, Vice President, Commercial Southeast Asia and Korea, IHG Hotels and Resorts; Moderator Ms Yasmin Abdeen, visiting lecturer at EHL Campus (Singapore).
At the height of COVID-19, industries across the world were forced to adapt their practices in the name of health and safety. Such adjustment was particularly important in food and service industries.
Highlighting adaptations like curbside pickups, Joff Romoff, Vice President (Commercial Southeast Asia and Korea) at IHG Hotels and Resorts shared that he believes the hospitality industry should continue to harness such innovation to deal with major challenges like labour crunches.
Similarly, KosmodeHealth, a start-up spun off from the NUS Food Science Technology Department leverages innovation to address health challenges. At the event, Florence Leong, Co-founder and Director of KosmodeHealth elaborated on their work in repurposing food processing wastes for human nutrition.
Waste or side streams generated after food production is fundamental to Leong’s work. Specifically, her team repurposes barley waste from malt production into protein fibre ingredients for the development of functional foods or nutraceuticals. Additionally, to demonstrate the feasibility of using food processing wastes for human consumption and to address the needs of an ageing population, KosmodeHealth also developed high-protein fibre zero-starch noodles using spent barley grains.
“Instead of using technology to extract protein and fibre from whole grains, we should go back to basics and make better use of crops that have been grown,” Leong urged. “Don’t use it and dump it away—we should give it a second life.”
By doing so, companies can minimise the greenhouse gas emissions required to grow more crops while also reducing emissions that come from processing waste that ends up in landfills.
Innovating at scale
Even with a great idea or product, startups can run into challenges when transitioning to operating at scale. In their experience, the panellists agreed that specialisation and collaboration are key.
Naidu shared that before joining Good Food Institute, he worked at a start-up that specialised in one specific ingredient and one specific binding technology—this decision made all the difference when it came to scaling up and licencing the technology.
Offering the opposite perspective of a large industry player, Romoff encouraged startups to consistently approach potential partners without getting discouraged. “The truth is, it’s all about banging on doors,” he shared.
“If anyone has a product, let me know,” he added. “I am all ears. We’re always looking for great products because great products drive demand, demand drives profit and profit drives reinvestment—it creates an ecosystem.”
To truly advance food tech, partners from different corners of the industry must work together. Hiroyuki Hirano, Director of CRUST Japan, explained the value of creating a collaborative market rather than a competitive one, particularly when it comes to sustainability.
The team at CRUST develops artisanal beer made from surplus ingredients like bread. As a beverage company, they work with retail partners to both collect food waste for their beer production as well as distribute the final product.
“When we collaborate, we always try to think long-term,” said Hirano. “Sustainability is not a one-time effort—we have to keep going and helping each other grow.”
Beyond the horizon
Once startups have a well-developed sustainable product and the right partners, they must figure out how to take their work to the consumer. To accomplish this, Naidu suggested engaging with chefs to refine the taste of the product.
“Taste, price and nutrition—they all play such a big role,” he said. “You can have a good product but if it’s not affordable for the mass consumer, then it’s not going to sell. Similarly, if the taste is not good, people won’t buy it again.”
For KosmodeHealth, Leong’s team expertly develop healthy and sustainable staple foods like noodles that have a neutral flavour and can take on the taste of what it is cooked with.
Ultimately, innovators must identify their audience and understand what they want. For many consumers, while taste is key, nutritional value can be a major selling point. To entice consumers to move away from their traditional comfort foods to a novel food product, innovators can highlight the nutritional value of their product and keep consumers informed.
“What is the demand for it and are people willing to pay for it,” Romoff emphasised. “Just like renewable energy, as we become more knowledgeable from a health perspective and as we start to see a change in our daily lives, that’s when demand will increase.”
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