Prefer: Brewing your next cup of coffee, bean-free

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(L to R) Irene Cheong, Executive Director (Industry Cluster (HHP) & Venture Creation and Growth), A*STAR Innovation and Enterprise; Sharon Tay, Director of Food Manufacturing & Agritech, Enterprise Singapore; Tan Ding Jie, CTO & Co-Founder, Prefer; and Jake Berber, CEO & Co-Founder, Prefer.

 

Our inaugural FTIC Food Tech Start-up Challenge wrapped up recently in late June, with Singapore-based start-up, Prefer, emerging as the Grand Prize winner. They walked away with S$150,000 worth of innovation vouchers and an additional S$30,000 proof-of-concept development grant.

Tapping into their fermentation process to upcycle food waste, Prefer creates bean-free coffee that retains the flavour and aroma of traditional coffee. We recently caught up with the faces behind the business – Jake Berber, CEO & Co-Founder, and Tan Ding Jie, CTO & Co-Founder – to find out what’s next for Prefer following their win.

  1. Congratulations on your win! What does being crowned the Grand Prize winner of the inaugural FTIC Food Tech Start-up Challenge mean to both of you?

Jake: This win, to me, means we are one step closer to creating a sustainable future for food and beverage. I’m so proud of my team and we’re excited to keep working to tackle current unsustainable methods of coffee production. As a result of climate change, half of the coffee farmland we have today will no longer be around by 2050. In the same period, demand for coffee is expected to double, which also means prices will increase.

With our coffee being made sustainably without beans, I’m looking forward to providing a solution to this massive challenge and disrupting the coffee industry.

Ding Jie (DJ): It means a lot to have garnered immense levels of support from the food tech community through the Challenge. We are tremendously grateful for the opportunity to showcase our work in producing bean-free coffee, alongside our peers in the industry.

  1. We hear that you’re becoming members of the FTIC community – welcome! Could you please share a bit more about your plans?

DJ: We’re all geared up to join the FTIC community. As part of that, we’ll be setting up our pilot manufacturing facility in the FTIC, which will allow us to scale production and ready ourselves to be in stores by the end of the year. Stay tuned, Singapore!

  1. How does Prefer intend to leverage the prizes awarded by the Challenge? What else is next on the horizon?

DJ: We’re now focused on making significant improvements to our product, so that it is more robust and versatile for coffee chains and FMCG companies.

We’re also looking to design more interesting coffee flavours that are inspired by regional single-origin coffees from Colombia and Ethiopia.

Jake: Further down the pipeline, our goal is to leverage our fermentation process and create a sustainable portfolio of natural flavours, such as cacao, vanilla and citrus, that are now threatened by climate change. Coffee is just the start for us!

  1. What is the biggest learning you’ve gained from your Challenge journey?

Jake: The alternative food market is a competitive space and start-ups like us need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

The biggest takeaway we’ve gained is that a great product needs a compelling story. But more importantly, this compelling story needs a village to share it. Prefer is supported by some of the best and most passionate individuals in the industry, and we couldn’t be more grateful for our village.

  1. What are your tips to early-stage start-ups considering to be a part of the food tech community?

    Jake & DJ:

1. Put yourself out there! Any feedback is good feedback for iterating.

2. Find your tribe – the community makes all the difference in a start-up’s journey! We’ve had the pleasure of joining Nurasa’s FTIC community and we’re excited to tap into the network and resources here to further our growth.

3. Above all, prioritise having fun and learning. Good things will follow.

***

At Nurasa, we look forward to seeing what the future holds for Prefer and will continue to support their journey to revolutionise the coffee industry, one bean-free cup of coffee at a time.

The FTIC Food Tech Start-Up Challenge was organised by Nurasa, Trendiness AgriFood Innovation Centre, A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) and supported by Enterprise Singapore.



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