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NIC Novel IDEAS Center: Musim Mas’ R&D lab, Singapore

By Devane Sharma

R&D and Food Innovation: The Novel IDEAS Center

My cab pulled into the Novel IDEAS Center (NIC), in the vicinity of the Singapore Science Park, a sprawling R&D hub of relatively low-rise buildings, each enveloped in the lush green vegetation of the tropical city-state.

Entering the facility, I am greeted by one of the center’s R&D specialists, Cecilia Ng, who manages functional dairy products. NIC is an R&D and innovation subsidiary established by Musim Mas in 2019 at the cost of S$10million (US$7.34million) to develop palm oil innovations such as specialty fats for the Food and Beverage industry. Built with partnerships in mind, NIC aims to support food ingredient companies and food manufacturers to develop solutions to meet new product development and market trends. NIC is Musim Mas’ second R&D center, after the KIM II Lab in Medan, Indonesia.

We browsed through labs that support confectioneries, bakery products, specialty Asian foods, dairy, frozen desserts, and an additional analytical lab for data analysis.

Over the last three years, the lab’s customers ranged from food manufacturers seeking to improve existing formulations to those developing new products. There is a strong demand for new products, particularly in Asia Pacific, where food and beverage companies are now creating seasonal flavors that cater to local tastes. There is also increasing demand for products that cater to dietary requirements such as gluten-free, plant-based health foods, and sugar-free products.

The labs are brightly lit with an array of stainless steel-clad scientific equipment occasional kitchen appliances in sight, albeit industrial-scale versions. I notice what appeared to be a huge refrigerator filled with bottles of chocolate beverages.

Testing new plant-based formulations

Developing dairy-alternative and plant-based beverages

Consumers are demanding more dairy alternative beverages, such as those that use oat or almond milk in place of dairy. According to a Euromonitor report in 2020, the Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa (APMEA) region made up 50% of the global dairy beverages retail sales by volume. Plant-based F&B product launches in this region also saw a 21% annual growth for the same period.1

“The demand for dairy-alternative beverages poses a huge opportunity but also challenges for producers,” Cecilia explains. She notices that my attention is drawn towards one chocolate beverage with distinct light and dark layers. “That’s what we call fat separation.” She points at other samples. Another one had a darker bottom layer caused by sedimentation, and a third bottled beverage was almost gel-like.

“Now, what if I told you all of these drinks are safe for consumption,” she proclaims as she hands the gel-like chocolate beverage. Seeing my hesitation, she smiles. “Exactly. We all want products that have a desirable body and mouthfeel. It’s no different with dairy products, and it’s more challenging. It is harder to get the plant-based proteins and fat to emulsify. One of our customers’ biggest issues with such products is that the end-consumers express dissatisfaction over sedimentation and watery beverages. Consumers want more than just a product that meets nutritional needs.”

Common problems in beverage without emulsifiers

This is where emulsifiers and stabilizers come in. Naturally plant-based, GMO-free, and trans-fat-free, NIC’s MASBLEN® 5101 and 5102 range is well-equipped for plant-based beverages.

In such beverages, they’re needed to improve the stability of plant proteins, including high-temperature resistance, emulsion stability, providing a uniform suspension of plant proteins and additives e.g., matcha powder, and for pH stabilization.

The final lab in my visit was starkly different. Filled with a pinkish ambient light when I entered, this was the sensory lab where a panel would test prototype products. They try out the formulations for sight, smell, taste, and touch. The colored lighting in the room helps to mask visual differences in the sample’s appearance, thereby isolating taste as the key variable. This way, the panel can focus on a difference in taste without their judgment being influenced by the samples’ appearance. The sensory lab is the final stage in the product development journey at NIC to ensure that the end product meets the desired qualities.

The Sensory Lab at NIC

Lasting Partnerships for Successful Partnerships

The NIC labs were conceptualized with partnerships to co-create successful solutions with its clients. NIC’s emulsifiers and specialty fats come from Musim Mas, renowned for its supply chain excellence. Musim Mas is also as a fully integrated supply and sustainable palm oil company.

Click here to find out more about NIC. For inquiries, fill out the form on this page.


1Food & Beverage Asia: Serving up sustainable dairy and dairy alternative beverages