The Food Innovation & Resource Centre (FIRC), run in conjunction with Singapore Polytechnic, hopes to take a lead from its counterparts in Japan by developing products better catered to consumer demands and taste. With a growing number of multinationals entering China's bourgeoning food and beverage markets, local companies are coming under increasing pressure to compete with innovation, particularly in terms of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Speaking at the centre's launch, trade minister Lee Yi Shayn said greater research and development will be needed if Chinese food and beverage products are to compete with the levels of innovation being found in rival foreign products. "In the past, Singapore food companies stood out among competitors for our quality and lower cost products," he said. "However, the situation is fast changing as other companies are now able to offer similar products at the same quality and perhaps at a lower cost." To step up production, the centre aims to support SMEs within food and beverage production. They will offer a technology infrastructure companies may otherwise be unable to afford. Yi Shyan used the example of a number of companies in the country who were already benefiting from the use of greater innovation in food production to adapt to changing consumer demands. These innovations have included companies developing products like halal sauces and vegetarian mayonnaises to meet more niche demands from consumers. To push the project, Singapore Polytechnic is expected to negotiate memorandums of understanding with the country's Food Manufacturers' Association and the Singapore Manufacturers' Federation over use of the centre. During its first five years, the trade ministry expects that about 275 schemes will have been implemented through the centre increasing the value of regional food products by about $115m (€85m). Yi Shyan therefore hopes that SMEs in the country will take up the opportunity to develop higher quality products. "I therefore urge our food companies, particularly SMEs, to tap on the FIRC's expertise to adopt new technologies so that they can commercialise their innovations quickly and stay ahead in the global market," he said.