When you are a small island-city with housing and businesses taking up most of your landmass, how do you provide food for your people? Up until now, most of Singapore’s population has survived on imported goods, but thanks to the foodtech startups in Southeast Asia and foodtech in Singapore in particular, this is starting to change. 

So what techniques and technology are the country using to become more self-sufficient? We take a look at some of the innovations in cell culture that are helping to feed Singapore’s desire for home-grown edible products.

What is cell culture technology?

The process of taking cells from natural ingredients such as animals and plants, and growing them in a laboratory forms the basis of cell culture technology. The cells are grown in containers or vessels with added nutrients, gases, growth factors and sometimes hormones to encourage growth into viable products. 

The pharmaceutical and medical industries use this process to examine the impact of drugs on medical conditions and to test vaccines, medications and therapies. In recent years, the foodtech industry has adopted these techniques to explore the benefits of growing food in labs. 

Creating sustainable food sources in a laboratory has the potential to impact the food production industry on an unprecedented scale. As climate change and environmental issues such as deforestation and its knock-on effect of flooding are causing problems for food production globally, cell culture technology has the potential to help eradicate hunger, reduce the carbon footprint on exports and limit livestock emissions, helping to slow damage to the environment. 

With Singapore having to import approximately 90% of their food products, innovation in agritech could be a game-changer. If the country can produce more of its food in-state, it can reduce its import bill and the carbon footprint related to imports. 

As there is simply not enough room on the island to farm livestock or vegetables to satisfy the needs of the country, the government has thrown its support behind the development of foodtech. With governmental agency Enterprise Singapore ringfencing $55 million SGD in grants and funding for agritech, the country’s leaders are putting their money where their mouths are as they aim to enhance the local food supply chain. 

Companies leading the way

Globally, plant-based proteins such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are shaking up the meat markets. Famous fast-food companies such as KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King embraced the trend and launched vegan versions of their products using cell culture protein substitutes. 

In Singapore, foodtech companies have also taken on the challenge to produce quality, tasty products in the lab. Here are some of the forerunners:

TurtleTree Labs

Focussing on the dairy industry, TurtleTree Labs is producing lab-grown milk. Its mission is to provide the world with milk that protects the environment and animal rights while providing nourishment. By creating mammary gland cells from milk cells, TurtleTree can then stimulate the glands to produce milk. 

In July, this innovative firm won the Temasek Foundation’s Liveability Challenge 2020, landing them a cash prize worth $1 million SGD to help the company scale up and advertise their product. 

Shiok Meats

Singaporeans love their seafood. Statistically, they eat around 22 kg per person annually, and one of the nation’s top dishes is char kway teow, which often has shrimp as an integral part. Shiok Meats aims to make the shrimps used more environmentally friendly and healthy by using plant and animal cells to grow them in the lab. 

Currently, in the R&D phase, the company has already garnered much attention from investors and the media. Recently Shiok Meats managed to raise $12.6 million USD in Series A funding with the help of Aqua-Spark, a fund set up to support sustainable aquaculture businesses. Soon, Shiok Meats hope to have their products hitting the woks of Singapore and beyond. 

Life3 Biotech

Another of the foodtech innovators shaking up the Singapore scene is Life3 Biotech. Producing protein and fibre-rich plant-based meat alternatives from all-natural ingredients, it is trans-fat and hormone-free, making it a healthy choice.

As the meat alternative industry explodes the world over, in the US alone, the bio-protein sector is already worth $5 billion USD. Life3 Biotech’s meat alternative product, Veego, is Singapore’s first locally produced venture into the world of lab-created protein business and has government grants supporting its development. 

Combining technology with the production of alternative food sources is one way that foodtech startups in Southeast Asia are disrupting the supply chain. The creation of dairy, seafood and meat alternatives in laboratories is just the start of what is likely to be a food revolution. Foodtech in Singapore is on the cusp of great things—providing sustainable, environmentally, and animal-friendly products that consumers want to buy. Hopefully, soon, the small island nation will be able to produce a lot more of its own food stock and reduce the money and resources spent on imports to the country.