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Alchemy raises S$2.5m in pre-Series A funding, sets up foodtech lab

The Business Times by SHARANYA PILLAI

Singapore

LOCAL startup Alchemy Foodtech has raised S$2.5 million in its pre-Series A round, co-led by Heritas Capital Management and SEEDS Capital, the venture arm of Enterprise Singapore.

The investment was announced in September last year, but the exact sum was not disclosed then.

Other investors include Bits x Bites, a Shanghai foodtech accelerator and venture capital fund; NUS Enterprise, the National University of Singapore's entrepreneurial arm; and angel investors.

Alchemy will use the funds to further develop its core product 5ibrePlus, a proprietary ingredient which lowers the Glycemic Index (GI) of food such as bread and rice, without changing the taste, colour and texture.

Food with lower GI levels release sugar into the bloodstream more slowly, helping to manage Type 2 diabetes.

Made from plant fibres and extracts, 5ibrePlus is produced in powder form. It is also available in grain form, called 5ibreGrain, which can be mixed with white rice.

Replacing 9 per cent of white rice with 5ibreGrain lowers the GI of the mixture to that of brown rice, Alan Phua, CEO and co-founder of Alchemy, told The Business Times.

Mr Phua and fellow co-founder Verleen Goh spent three and a half years analysing hundreds of plant compounds to come up with 5ibrePlus.

"We realised that no one ingredient can do the work, and it has to be a blend of many ingredients," Mr Phua said, declining to reveal the specific constituents due to commercial sensitivity.

Alchemy has applied to patent 5ibreTech in close to 20 countries, including Singapore, Mr Phua added.

To boost its research capabilities, Alchemy also launched its foodtech laboratory, CookLab@Alchemy, on Monday.

Located at the Singapore Science Park, the facility hosts a food lab, where Alchemy optimises 5ibrePlus for specific food items, and a biochemistry lab where the effectiveness of the product can be tested.

Alchemy has partnered four industry players to develop low-GI versions of their products, namely bread manufacturer Gardenia, steamed bun producer Lim Kee, noodle manufacturer TSK and restaurant chain Han's F&B Group.

The latter is working on a pilot with Alchemy to develop low-GI versions of fried rice and some pastries. Han's is looking to launch these products in the middle of this year, said the company's general manager Simon Siah.

"You know Singaporeans - we want to be healthy but also want our food to be tasty. So this is Alchemy's unique proposition. Most of the food-tech solutions we have seen outside are still in experimental stage, but Alchemy has managed to scale fast," he told BT.

Chik Wai Chiew, CEO of Heritas, said that his firm invested in Alchemy for both its commercial viability and positive social impact.

"As an Asia-focused fund, we are also very sensitive to the fact that food is culturally significant ... I think none of us would want to eat chicken rice with brown rice. What Alchemy has done is to maintain the taste, and yet make it healthy. This means there is no need for a forced trade-off," he said.

Alchemy will likely pursue Series A funding later this year to grow its presence within Singapore and serve more categories of food manufacturers, said Mr Phua.

"Now, we are mainly targeting four food staples: rice, bread, noodles and buns. We hope to open up to more food categories, like cookies and cakes. We have quite a lot of requests for low-GI pasta as well," he said.

While Alchemy's business revolves around 5ibrePlus for now, Mr Phua sees the company coming up with more proprietary foodtech solutions in future.

"Alchemy will always be developing new technologies. It's not meant to be a one-trick pony, with just one product," he said.