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Green Is The New Black

The Rising Stars Of Singapore’s Alternative Protein Scene

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Karana alternative protein

These four brands are flying the flag for Singapore on the alternative protein scene. From dairy-free milk and fish-free seafood to jackfruit and chickpea-based ‘meat’. After securing significant investment, expect to see these Singaporean alternative proteins moving mainstream in the coming years. Here, Green Monday intern, Sebastian Wong, shines a light on exciting developments within the industry and the brands to look out for.

“Beyond Meat, Impossible, Gardein; you’ll likely be familiar with these brands as the frontrunners of the alternative protein industry. An industry estimated to be worth $140 billion over the next decade. With such growth potential, many are eager to grab a slice of this alternative protein pie. Here’s a list of Singaporean alternative protein up-and-comers that you’ll definitely want to know.

Shellfish? More like ‘cell’ fish: Shiok Meats

Shiok Meats: Singaporean alternative protein

While many companies are working on burger patties and sausages, seafood was uncharted territory in the alternative protein world – until the female-founded startup Shiok Meats took on the challenge. They are working to develop cell-based crustaceans, with a goal to disrupt the traditional seafood farming industry.

Dr Sandhya Sririham was inspired to start the company with Dr Ka Yi Ling when she saw shrimp grown in the sewage and cleaned with bleach. Questionable farming practices aside, issues such as mangrove destruction and the use of slave labour have brought to light the need for an alternative source in such a problem-ridden industry.

At the moment, 1kg of lab-grown shrimp costs around US$5000. Sririham hopes to lower the cost to around US$50 by the end of the year in order to make it more accessible. They expect prices will fall further as the company scales up production. Supported by a remarkable array of investors, Shiok Meats just completed a US$3 million bridge funding round in early July. They are planning to set up their first manufacturing plant in Singapore to prepare for commercialisation of cultured seafood in the next 2-3 years. Their investors include the CEO of Monde Nissin (Parent company of Quorn, UK-based meat substitute producers), Y Combinator; a seed money startup accelerator which has previously invested in Twitch and Airbnb, and Big Idea Ventures; a venture capital fund investing in the most innovative companies working on plant-based food, food technology, and alternative proteins.

‘Got (cell-based) milk’?: TurtleTree Labs

At any moment in time, there are  264 million dairy cows on earth, producing 600 million tonnes of milk every year. The dairy industry is a major component of our currently unsustainable global food supply chain. TurtleTree Labs is working to tackle this very issue. 

The founders Fengru Lin and Max Rye are currently focusing on breast milk. Don’t get it twisted, they aren’t attempting to create milk proteins from genetically modified microbes to replicate human breastmilk. They are using a ‘cell-based’ process, which is currently in the process of being patented, in an attempt to grow mammary gland cells which actually lactate milk. 

Turtletree’s technology has significant advantages compared to conventional ones. It is 22 times cheaper than the human breast milk that is sold in hospitals for premature babies. Additionally, it only takes about 2% and 17% respectively of the water and energy that is needed for conventional cattle milk to produce the ‘cell-based’ milk. Recently, they have secured US$3.2 million in seed funding from investors such as Green Monday Ventures and KBW Ventures, owned by Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, a prince of the House of Saud. They plan to use the extra funding for R&D purposes by creating more prototypes and hiring more scientists.

Jackfruit hijacked: Karana

Karana alternative protein

Karana sets out to ‘re-image Asian Food’. As ambitious as it is, they might have a good shot. They are very close to launching their whole pork alternative made from jackfruit. The ‘already meaty-textured’ jackfruit requires minimal processing, appealing to those that may find the processed plant-based meat or ‘lab-grown’ alternative protein off-putting. Jackfruit is also naturally easy to grow, pest and drought-resistant while is tolerant of high temperatures. This will be an increasingly important derivative as the effects of the climate crisis and COVID-19 continue to expose the fragility of the current food supply chain. Supply of jackfruit is also plentiful, as ‘upwards of 60% of the world’s jackfruit crop goes to waste’, and Karana strives to introduce this miracle food to a whole new audience. 

Karana closed its seeding funding round with US$1.7 million in July 2020. Investors include Big Idea Ventures, the Temasek-backed fund dedicated to plant-based food and Germi8, a VC firm which invests in agri-food startups. Karana plans to use the funds to launch their first range of plant-based meats and dim sum products in Singapore, with their star product being Char Siew Bao (a traditional barbecue pork bun in Chinese cuisine). Crichton said that their focus at the moment is very much ‘Asian comfort food’. For overseas operations, they plan to expand to Hong Kong by the end of 2020. A portion of the money will be used to accelerate its R&D capabilities by building a regional food-tech team.

The Start of Something New: Growthwell

Growthwell has been around since 1989, selling wheat gluten-based ‘mock meat’, often featured in Chinese Buddhist cuisine, to the South East Asian market. The family business is now under the leadership of brothers Colin and Justin Chou, after taking over from their father Chou Shih Hsin. Since then, the brother founded the popular vegetarian restaurant chain Greendot in 2011 and the digital marketplace Glife Technologies in 2017.

In April 2020, the Singaporean sovereign fund Temasek led a US$8 million investment into the company. This follows Temasek’s investments in other alternative protein startups such as Perfect Day Foods and Sophie’s Kitchen in an effort to fight the food security problem in Singapore. With this recent cash injection, Growthwell plans to invest in other plant-based start-ups. Its target? Israeli startup ChickP, which is developing chickpea-based protein. Growthwell aims to use ChickP’s 90% chickpea-protein isolate to develop products for the Asia-Pacific market including imitation prawn and squid meat. Although the majority of the funding will go into a new R&D centre in Singapore, focusing on moisture extrusion capabilities with a fully automated production line. The R&D centre will be operating with the goal of bolstering Singapore’s food self-sufficiency, as a part of the city-state’s plan to defend itself from external supply shock due to the pandemic. Additionally, they hope to develop new product offerings, such as chickpea-milk and ice cream in the near future.”

*Lead image courtesy of Karana

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