Driven by its appetite for innovation, home-grown company Lim Kee Food Manufacturing has teamed up with a foodtech firm to improve its popular steamed buns. 

As one of Singapore’s leading Chinese pau (steamed bun) makers, Lim Kee Food Manufacturing has always embodied a zest for transformation.

When demand for their steamed buns started to rise in the 1990s, the company wasted no time in expanding from one to three production units.

To boost efficiency, the company moved from Ang Mo Kio to its current premises in Woodlands in 2004 to house its administrative and production operations under one roof.

So it came as no surprise in 2017 when the home-grown brand decided to embark on a new initiative, and its boldest one yet: to create a healthier variant of steamed buns without compromising on the familiar taste that customers have come to love.

“Our company is constantly seeking new opportunities and areas to increase value for both our partners and customers,” said Ang Khim Wee, head of business development at Lim Kee Food Manufacturing.

This was how the company thought up the idea to create healthier and more nutritious products.

But Lim Kee knew it needed the right partner to get the steamed buns project off the ground. Khim Wee and his team began seeking out potential collaborators.

They found the right match at IPI’s TechInnovation event in 2017, where they met Alchemy Foodtech, a start-up focussed on fighting diabetes through food innovations.

A specialist in producing food with lowered glycemic index (GI), Alchemy Foodtech had perfected the art of lowering the GI composition in refined carbohydrate staples like white rice, noodles and bread, without affecting the food’s texture or taste.

Said Khim Wee: “Alchemy Foodtech's belief of researching and developing new offerings to appeal to consumers who prefer a 'familiar difference' was a strong value proposition.”

For Lim Kee, the concept of ‘familiar difference’ was key.

As a food company, it knew that consumers are generally resistant to totally new tastes, even though they may be curious about new products.

Khim Wee added: “Consumers are keen to try products with incremental differences rather than radically different products.”

For Alchemy Foodtech, the feeling was mutual.

“Khim Wee’s vision of transforming steamed buns through food innovation resonated deeply with us and so we began work to develop a new range of lower GI buns,” said Verleen Goh, co-founder at Alchemy Foodtech, who also goes by the title Chief Food Fighter.

But the journey towards creating buns with lower GI was a bumpy one.

For one, applying the right GI composition to the steamed buns proved difficult as the buns had to meet a specific height, size and shape requirement.

“In our first few trials, the buns were too flat,” said Verleen, adding that the team had to keep tweaking with its formula till the buns reached an appropriate height.

It took several rounds of trial and error before the partners finally struck gold. Not only did the resulting buns have a lower GI composition, they also retained the same taste and texture as the regular buns. Consumers have reacted well to the change, Verleen shared. The company had received positive feedback that the new buns had a softer crust compared to the regular buns.

The quality buns are the result of a successful partnership between Lim Kee and Alchemy Foodtech. The collaboration allowed them to push boundaries and explore new ideas.