ALTERNATIVE protein company Perfect Day is setting up its research and development (R&D) centre in Singapore, as the government ramps up efforts to grow the agri-food tech sector.

The A*Star-Perfect Day Joint Lab, which is expected to be operational from April next year, will comprise roughly 10 per cent of the Perfect Day workforce “in the beginning (before) growing from there to have a more significant presence”, said Perfect Day co-founder Perumal Gandhi.

The company uses precision fermentation biotechnology techniques to develop and produce animal-free dairy proteins, casein and whey. These animal-free protein products are then used to make items such as ice cream, cheese and yoghurt.

It plans to hire and train a pool of researchers, scientists and engineers locally, with know-how for microflora protein innovation, for example, in strain development, protein assays and analysis. The lab will focus on developing analytical systems that will be critical for ensuring the accuracy, specificity and consistency of the firm’s fermentation processes and protein ingredients.

It will leverage the A*Star Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation’s expertise in analytics and taste analysis, as well as the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology’s capabilities in the study of proteins.

Agri-food tech was highlighted as a new growth sector and potential export industry by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in its Committee of Supply in 2019.

Indeed, the sector is of growing importance in Singapore’s economy as the world looks for innovative, cost-effective and sustainable solutions to increase production yield and improve food quality.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant disrupted and weakened food supply chains have heightened this urgency, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Monday, as he witnessed the signing of a Research Collaboration Agreement between Perfect Day and A*Star.

Notably, the agri-food sector is primed for growth. Agri-food tech-focused venture capitalist AgFunder had announced a 46.8 per cent annual increase to US$16.9 billion of sector venture funding in 2018, and another 17.2 per cent annual increase to US$19.8 billion in 2019.

“Leveraging Singapore’s unique farm-to-fork ecosystem and track record for technical capabilities, quality branding and intellectual property protection, we aim to capture a significant share of the wave of economic opportunities,” said Mr Chan.

Various initiatives to grow this sector include the launch of the S$144 million Singapore Food Story R&D Programme, the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation which provides a single touch point for industry players keen to collaborate with A*Star, and the Future REady Food Safety Hub (FRESH), a tripartite collaboration between the Singapore Food Agency, A*Star, and Nanyang Technological University.

Mr Chan added that the opening of the Agri-Food Innovation Park in the second quarter of 2021 will further catalyse innovation in the ecosystem.

“We are also building a vibrant cluster of financing firms across various stages, for example, New Protein Capital, EDB Investments, Temasek, and Proterra, as well as a base of global agri-food accelerators (example, Big Idea Ventures alternative proteins accelerator and GROW Accelerator),” said the minister. “Our eventual aim is to build up the talent pool with expertise to deploy more than S$90 million of capital.”

These are part of the country’s overall food diversification strategy which comprises stockpiling, diversification of foreign suppliers, and local food production.

On the local food production front, the focus is on both high-tech, high-density vegetable farms and alternative protein products.

“This will allow us to meet our food supply requirement without the reliance on large tracts of land that other countries might have,” he pointed out. “Overall, it will be a much more efficient and sustainable way to produce the amount of food required for the growing population, particularly in Asia, where the demand for quantity and quality will grow up correspondingly with the growth of the region.”

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