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A*STAR's headquarters in Singapore. Image credit: A*STAR

Agrifoodtech firms are flocking to Singapore, with Perfect Day the latest to land

December 20, 2020

US alt-dairy startup Perfect Day revealed today that it will set up an R&D facility in Singapore, with the city-state’s minister for trade and industry predicting “many other companies” will be joining it to take advantage of the growing agrifoodtech ecosystem there.

California-based Perfect Day is establishing the joint R&D center in collaboration with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR.)

This center will bring together A*STAR’s expertise in areas such as taste analytics, cell biology, and protein biotech. The aim of the collaboration is to “build analytical platforms to characterize and quantify the key components in dairy food products that provide their distinctive taste and feel,” the startup said in a statement.

Founded in 2014, Perfect Day produces ‘animal-free’ dairy products using microflora to ferment sugars to create the same proteins, casein, and whey present in animal milk.

The startup is just the latest international agrifoodtech company to set up shop in Singapore.

Last month, German indoor farming firm &ever said it would establish its global R&D center in the city-state to carry out research into energy efficiency and yield optimization for indoor vertical farms. It’s also constructing a “mega-farm” in the east of Singapore with an annual production capacity of over 500 tons that is set to open by the end of 2021.

In October, US alt-protein startup Eat Just announced it would invest a total of $100 million with investor Proterra to build Asia’s first plant-based protein factory in Singapore. Earlier this month, the city-state handed Eat Just the world’s first regulatory approval for a cell-based, cultured meat product, clearing its ‘lab-grown’ chicken bites for sale to the public.

Swiss food industry majors Buhler and Givaudan announced the launch of a joint innovation center in Singapore in February to explore textures and tastes for plant-based protein products. French animal feed firm Adisseo set up an aquaculture R&D center in Singapore back in December 2019 to research aquatic animal health and nutrition.

Citing data from AgFunder, Singapore Minister of Trade & Industry Chan Chun Sing said that the global agrifood sector is “primed for growth” with investment into agrifoodtech startups growing 47% year-on-year in 2018 and a further 17% in 2019 to reach $19.8 billion. [Disclosure: AgFunder is AFN‘s parent company.]

With its “unique farm-to-fork ecosystem and track record for technical capabilities, quality branding, and intellectual property [IP] protection, Singapore aims to capture a significant share of the wave of economic opportunities in agrifoodtech,” Chan told reporters at a press conference announcing Perfect Day’s partnership with A*STAR.

Alt-protein products like those being developed by Perfect Day, Just Eat, and local players including Shiok Meats and TurtleTree Labs — which announced its $6.2 million pre-Series A round last week — have a critical role to play in feeding countries and cities like Singapore, where arable land is minimal and primary food sources are typically located far away.

“Alternative proteins will add to the suite of options we have without being restrained by factors like the [amount] of land and other natural resources we have. Overall, [they provide] a much more efficient, sustainable way to feed the population, across Asia, where demand will go up proportionally with the growth of the middle class,” Chan said.

But the buck doesn’t need to stop at Singapore securing its own nutritional needs, he added.

“We are not limiting our aspirations just to the domestic market. The larger market for this sector is really [the] growing needs for the Asia-Pacific, that we hope to capture. Look at China, Indonesia, India – as people become more affluent, as they seek higher quality food products, there will be a bigger market for these kinds of products. How do we feed a growing population in a sustainable manner that is also good for the environment? So our sense is not just how big the local market is, but how big the global market can be.”

“We want to make sure the core IP, the core R&D happens here – so the high-value part of the value chain is housed in Singapore, and we can attract the investment and the people to come here,” Chan said.

He noted that in addition to the arrival of foreign startups and corporates, as well as the growth of local players, a variety of domestic and international investors are contributing to the development of Singapore’s agrifoodtech ecosystem.

“We are also building a vibrant cluster of financing firms across various stages, for example, New Protein Capital, EDBI, Temasek, and Proterra, as well as a base of global agrifood accelerators [such as] Big Idea Ventures‘ alternative proteins accelerator and GROW Accelerator […] Our eventual aim is to build up the talent pool with expertise to deploy more than S$90 million [$67.5 million] of capital.” [Disclosure: GROW Accelerator is operated by AgFunder, AFN‘s parent company.]

Returning to Perfect Day’s R&D center announcement, Chan said it is another “milestone in our ongoing journey.”

“There will be many other companies joining us to build up our ecosystem,” he continued. “We’re optimistic this can become a new pillar of our economic development, providing us with greater [economic] diversity, food security for Singapore, and new opportunities in countries beyond Singapore.”

Singapore sovereign fund Temasek led Perfect Day’s $140 million Series C round in December 2019.

Got a news tip? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter at @jacknwellis

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