No pork in this 'luncheon meat'

To the casual observer, it looks just like the traditional luncheon meat familiar to everyone growing up here.

Except, this new product from Thong Siek Food Industry is different in one crucial regard.

When they sample it, people are surprised by the taste and the main ingredient.

"It's only fish?" is a response familiar to Thong Siek chief executive Alfred Tan and his team.

The firm's seafood product range is exported to more than 20 countries, particularly its flagship Dodo brand of chilled or frozen fishballs, fishcakes, crabsticks and such.

"People find this product very interesting, especially when we tell them it is made of fish, not pork or any other meat."

Mr Tan said that the company embarked on developing this new product line, dubbed Fischeon, given the potential for breaking into new markets - not to mention a different retail section, namely canned goods - with it.

It was also a response to a gap in the market; public confidence in traditional pork luncheon meat produced in China had taken a knock in recent years owing to food safety scandals.

"It's opened up brand new horizons for us," said Mr Tan. "We've never exploited this gap in the market before, and nobody's tried doing this before."

In taking this opportunity to develop the fish meat-loaf product, Thong Siek has found Singapore's sterling food safety reputation an added boon. The firm has also benefited from its own positive track record in developing healthy fish and seafood products that incorporate brain- and heart-friendly Omega-3 fatty acids.

The company, founded in 1976, has developed Fischeon with the support of Spring Singapore's Capability Development Grant as well as the fostering of a collaboration with the Food Innovation and Resource Centre (FIRC) at Singapore Polytechnic.

While Thong Siek was familiar with creating popular products in the chilled or frozen foods section, creating a new canned food entailed a steep learning curve.

The firm worked with FIRC to develop commercial sterilisation processes to ensure the final product would have a suitably long shelf life.

As part of the product innovation project, home-grown Thong Siek, which has production facilities in Singapore and Malaysia, built its first automated canning line in its local food plant-cum- headquarters. For this, the funding support was both necessary and appreciated, said Mr Tan.

The halal-certified Fischeon line, with original, black pepper and cheese varieties and containing DHA, a kind of Omega-3 essential for heart health, has already been launched here and is available at FairPrice, Giant and Sheng Shiong.

Overseas, it is a new product for Thong Siek's existing markets such as Greater China, including Hong Kong, and Malaysia, and a breakthrough product for new markets in the Middle East, where the product first debuted at the 2011 Gulfood food expo in Dubai.

The firm is also looking to the Americas, Europe and potentially Africa.

Calling customers' response to Fischeon in Singapore "pretty good" so far, Mr Tan added that the company is focused on continuing to bring innovative, market-relevant food to customers.

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