Food technology startups in Southeast Asia can access Nestlé’s upgraded research-and-development (R&D) center in Singapore through the food company’s new R&D Accelerator program.  

The center’s state-of-the-facilities can be used to tweak food products to fit local consumer preferences, taste, and nutritional requirements of markets in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. 

“If you want to be successful in our business, you need a good understanding of the flavors people love, the dishes they want to serve to their families, the food trends they want to try,” said Chris Johnson, chief executive officer of Nestlé’s Asia, Oceania, and Sub-Saharan Africa (AOA) division, at the center’s virtual launch. “That’s why it’s so important to have an R&D team in Singapore, here in the heart of Southeast Asia, a center of excellence driving innovation and product development in Asia, for Asia.”  

The R&D Accelerator will give startups, students, and employees access to new labs, experimental kitchens, testing facilities, sensory evaluation rooms, open working spaces, and research hubs. There, they can develop their concepts for up to six months.  

There’s been a rise in demand for healthy, natural, and sustainable products in the region, according to Mr. Johnson, who shared that the facilities have been used by Nestlé scientists to develop innovations like non-dairy Nescafé mixes and Milo powdered beverages as well as plant-based meat alternatives.  

At the Milo facility, for example, researchers developed soy-based and almond-based products that retain the chocolate malt beverage’s signature taste, said Thomas Hauser, head of Nestlé’s global product and technology development.  

“We have 1.6 billion Swiss francs invested in R&D, wherever there is a need,” he said, on the importance of developing more product lines to cater to every market, whether in Asia or elsewhere. “The entire center has 300 researchers that work there.”  

Other sustainable products that come out of the center include Nescafé Gold non-dairy lattes and Starbucks’ Silky Soy and Toasted Oat Lattes. The R&D Center is also working on meat alternatives and plant-based burger patties, schnitzels, and meat mince, which are then produced in Malaysia.  

Nestlé’s Harvest Gourmet brand incorporates these plant-based innovations in Asian cuisine such as dumplings and katsudon. These are developed from the R&D Center’s test kitchens, which separate halal from non-halal products.  

“More and more consumers are interested firstly, in health; secondly, in sustainability for the planet; and thirdly, in animal welfare,” said Mr. Johnson, Nestlé’s AOA chief. 

In the Philippines, Nestlé promotes regenerative agriculture and sustainable coffee production through partnerships with Mindanao-based Robusta coffee farmers — an example of sustainable initiatives that Nestlé expects to come out of the R&D Accelerator.  

“We look for bright ideas and innovators from universities in Singapore or within the region, and we’re open to undergraduate or graduate students who want to pilot initiatives with us. Same is valid for early startups who want to bring an idea to market but may not have the know-how,” said Guglielmo Bonora, managing director of Nestlé’s R&D Center in Singapore. 

Added Mr. Hauser: “They can tap into our expertise in food science, food safety, and regulatory, managing, and packaging purposes, and test products in real market conditions.” — Brontë H. Lacsamana