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Singapore’s Prefer raises $2m to develop beanless coffee concept

The Forge Ventures-led funding round will enable Prefer to move to a larger production site and explore international distribution opportunities for its packaged and RTD products 

Prefer co-founders Jake Berber (left) and Tan Ding Jie (right) | Photo credit: Prefer

Singaporean beanless coffee start-up Prefer has secured $2m in seed funding to build a new manufacturing facility and expand its product distribution across further southeast Asian markets. 

Founded in 2022 by Jake Berber and Tan Ding Jie, Prefer uses a fermentation technique to upcycle soy pulp, leftover bread and spent grain to make its beanless coffee products. It sources the byproducts from local businesses, including bakery company Gardenia and soymilk manufacturer Mr Bean. 

Prefer manufactures a packaged ground product compatible with standard espresso machines which it distributes to business-to-business (B2B) customers including the specialty coffee shops Dough and Foreword Coffee Roasters. The start-up also manufactures a ready-to-drink (RTD) product for quick-service restaurants and will launch in supermarkets in the second quarter of 2024. 

It currently manufactures, processes and packages its products in a laboratory within the Food Tech Innovation Centre of sustainable food firm Nurasa. The new capital injection will enable Prefer to build a larger site and scale production to international markets, starting with the Philippines. 

“As climate change erodes coffee farmlands, erratic weather puts crops at risk, and demand continues to rise, coffee bean prices will skyrocket. That’s where Prefer comes in to ensure the production and price of coffee become sustainable and stable in the long run,” said Jake Berber, Co-Founder and CEO of Prefer. 

The investment round was led by venture capital firm Forge Ventures, with Makati City-based coffee chain Pickup Coffee among the other investors. 

Several start-ups have recently received funding to develop their beanless coffee products. In May 2022, Californian synthetic food ingredients firm Voyage Foods closed a $36m Series A funding round to develop its Bean-Free Coffee concept, as well as bring its peanut-free spread and cocoa-free chocolate to market. 

In July 2023 US beanless coffee brand Minus received new investment from Amplifica Capital to develop packaged ground coffee alternatives and pursue new distribution partnerships with retail and foodservice outlets. The Californian brand previously raised $4.5m in seed funding in September 2021. 

The following December, Japanese beverage giant Suntory Holdings made a multi-million dollar investment in Seattle-based Atomo Coffee, which it said would help facilitate international distribution for the brand. Atomo Coffee previously received $40m in a Series A round in June 2022.

Further highlighting industry interest in beanless coffee concepts, Ede-based Northern Wonder launched its Coffee-Free Coffee retail range across 534 Albert Heijn supermarket stores in the Netherlands in September 2023. 

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