, Singapore
Photo from Prefer

Startup future-proofs coffee with bean-free alternative amidst climate crisis

Prefer transforms surplus ingredients like day-old bread, soybean pulp, and barley grains into bean-free coffee.

As you read this, perhaps you’re relaxing at a café, soaking in its serene atmosphere, or at your office desk, enjoying a cold brew to jumpstart your day. But can you imagine a world struggling to source coffee beans?

Climate change relentlessly intensifies and agricultural food supplies increasingly dwindle. This pressing situation demands for alternatives to sustain existing sources and prevent further scarcity. In response, there emerges a food tech startup striving to future-proof coffee from climate change.

“Climate change is threatening to erode coffee farmland, extreme weather phenomena exacerbates the problem with supply shocks. Prefer provides an affordable, delicious, [and] sustainable alternative for coffee supply,” Jake Berber, Co-Founder and CEO of Prefer, told Singapore Business Review.

Prefer is a pioneer of bean-free coffee in Singapore, a market that remains largely untapped worldwide. Only a handful of companies globally offer similar products, each using different processes and ingredients.

A bean-free coffee might seem unconventional, but thanks to technology, consumers will hardly realise it’s not traditional coffee, given its remarkable outcomes.

“We source food commodity by-products which are ubiquitous, such as barley, bread, and soy. This approach allows us to partner with and scale alongside food manufacturers, while ensuring that production costs remain economical,” Tan Ding Jie, Co-Founder and CTO at Prefer said.

Prefer sources surplus ingredients from local businesses, including day-old bread from Gardenia, soybean pulp from Mr. Bean, and leftover barley grains from breweries like The 1925 Brewing Co. and Brewerkz. Through this, Prefer is able to upcycle and revolutionise a sustainable and alternative coffee source, served at major chains catering to the masses.

“We provide ground coffee compatible with standard espresso machines to our B2B customers, including cafes, coffee chains, distributors, and flavour houses, who seek a more affordable and sustainable coffee supply. We also offer ready-to-drink bottled coffee for quick-service food businesses, events, and retail shelves,” Berber said.

The ‘preferred coffee’

What started as a casual conversation turned into a revolutionary idea. Berber and Tan shared that Prefer started when they met at the start-up accelerator programme, Entrepreneur First.

“We quickly aligned on values and a question we would like to solve—how can we use food as a lever to deliver climate impact at scale. Within three months of our first conversation, we started Prefer to make bean-free coffee,” Tan said.

The name “Prefer” was derived from the technology originally used by the company, known as “precision fermentation.” Although Prefer has since shifted away from this technology, the word “Prefer” has left a pleasant ring to it, prompting them to maintain it as their brand name.

Despite being relatively new to the market, Prefer was able to secure US$2m in a seed funding round led by Forge Ventures, with participation from various other investors including 500 Global, A*ccelerate, Better Bite Ventures, Sopoong Ventures, SEEDS Capital, Entrepreneur First, and Pickup Coffee.

READ MORE: 20 Hottest Startups of 2024

“As bean-free coffee is relatively novel, there were parties who were skeptical about our technology or that there was a pain point in need of a solution; we were able to address these by demonstrating traction with our early prototypes,” Tan affirmed.

With this funding, Prefer plans to scale up production and explore additional applications and product lines involving their bean-free coffee.

“The strategic raise allows Prefer to make significant investments in growing the capacity of its production facility, expanding its ground coffee and ready-to-drink bottled beverages across Asia-Pacific, starting with Singapore and the Philippines,” Tan said.

Recognising its novelty to the market and its ambition to remain the “preferred coffee,” Prefer places the highest value on customer feedback, focusing on addressing their concerns and improving their experience.

“Through Prefer, we want to further its conventional use by leveraging cutting-edge science to create a line of sustainable flavours that’s accessible to everyone while conserving the environment,” Berber said.


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