To allow patients with swallowing difficulties to still enjoy their food, GentleFoods have created puréed moulded food that mirrors the look, taste and smell of our favourite hawker fare, such as Chicken Rice, Rendang Fish, Ayam Merah just to name a few. These products were created to be safe and nutritious, and stimulate ones’ appetite with easy-to-swallow foods, otherwise usually considered boring and dull. The company now offers ready-to-eat frozen bento meals, as well as specific meat and vegetable packs that come with sauces and can be easily re-heated and served at home.
What inspired the Innovation?
A very common problem among patients with dysphagia is, malnutrition, as they usually struggle to consume a diet of blended food that is perceived as bland and visually unappealing. In addition, pureed textured food can be challenging to prepare and is not readily available in the community. As a result, patients with dysphagia may choose not to consume their pureed meals despite medical advice, leading risks of aspiration of food into their airway and malnutrition.
Such pain points have fueled a passion and purpose in Yiru and Jeannie, GentleFood founders, to empower people with swallowing difficulties to ‘feel hungry again’. Together, they have worked tirelessly with hospitals, speech therapists, and dietitians to create and develop a slew of easy-to-swallow foods that are both nutritious, appetising and appealing.
“Both of us came from medical device sales and marketing background and we are very familiar in healthcare in the medical area. Starting this company was a step to our bigger vision of providing a full solution in terms for elderly patients and patients with swallowing problem. We believe that food is an essential part and has more important role than the medicines and devices. Jeannie and I had previous experience to see our loved ones suffering with unappetizing and bland blended meals. So we decided, let’s give life back to such foods. If we don’t start to do it, who will?” shared Yiru, who added that both Jeannie and herself also have a background in Biochemistry and Neuroscience.
Collaborating on a Shared Mission
GentleFoods collaborated with healthcare providers to develop the various products, all with the shared determination that patients with swallowing difficulties would still get to enjoy the flavours of their favorite foods. One of the healthcare providers who worked with GentleFoods on a selection of products was from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, with the facilitation from NHG’s Centre for Medical Technologies & Innovations (CMTi).
With the additional clinical inputs from their partners in the healthcare institutions through an open and consultative process, they overcame challenges such as meeting the food quality and safety standards. It took about 2.5 years for the duo to explore natural ingredients, stabilise the formulation, and establish the processes of developing the details of stabilising every step. “Now we are able to go from concept to prototype in as short as 3 weeks,” quipped Yiru.
To identify flavours that would tickle taste buds, GentleFoods worked with a team of TTSH clinicians from the Department of Speech Therapy and Department of Nutrition & Dietetics to explore and co-develop a range of 3D molded pureed food products. This collaboration was further supported by the TTSH Food & Beverage Team and facilitated by CMTi.
Some of the challenges faced by Yiru and Jeannie included having to meet the food safety and time-to-market requirements. In spite of these, they stood by their motivations and overcame the challenges by working closely together as trusted partners through an open and consultative process.
Next on the horizon for GentleFoods would be an even bigger menu that would include desserts and snacks, and other levels of foods in International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI) standard. The innovators would also be looking into a selection of other natural products to complement their current solution. With regard to technology in taste profile, Yiru and Jeannie are looking to explore natural ingredients to assist in that area. Other plans in the pipeline also include an expansion into the overseas market.
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