For a foodie nation that consumes a lot of food, we actually waste a good amount of food along with it. According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), we generated 665,000 tonnes of food waste in 2020. Even though this number was 11 per cent down from the 744,000 tonnes in 2019, it is still a scarily large number.
As much as we would like to waste less food, it might be futile to ask an Asian household to purchase less food to help conserve the environment. After all, abundance is usually the name of the game. Instead of buying less, local startup Just Dabao has thought of an ingenious way to combat food waste.
It essentially helps to redistribute surplus food at discounted rates, and follows stringent protocol to ensure this method of dealing with the extra food is a win-win for all parties involved.
We spoke to 29-year-old founder, Jennifer Ashianti Widjaja, to learn more about Just Dabao and how this model helps to curb food wastage in Singapore.
Food waste in Singapore – a hidden pandemic
It’s no secret that the F&B industry has been put through the wringer. Jennifer witnessed this firsthand when her friend moved back home to Indonesia after closing her bakery due to Covid-19.
She spent a lot of money learning from a prestigious baking school and was very excited to share her new recipe with the world. However, I was heartbroken as her years of hard work and excitement turned to dust due to something beyond her control — the inevitable ‘circuit breaker’.Jennifer Ashianti Widjaja, founder of Just Dabao
It’s not lost on Jennifer that many F&B owners share the same fate. This then spurred Jennifer to think of ways to help F&B businesses in Singapore.
In fact, she is no newbie to the startup scene. Before Just Dabao, she has worked at successful e-commerce startups in Indonesia, and a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-backed social enterprise startup specialising in healthcare.
She has also worked with P&G in the talent acquisition field and was also a headhunter in her first job. Jennifer credits all these experiences in equipping her with the relevant skills to start up Just Dabao.
Jennifer enlisted the help of her friends for a few brainstorming sessions and focus groups, and landed with this model. She ended up leaving her cushy job at Bloomberg and launched Just Dabao in August 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Along with her co-founder Srikanth, they were on a mission to solve the problem of food waste in Singapore.
Before we get into how Just Dabao works, it would be good to understand the extent of food waste in Singapore. Here are a couple of figures that might astound you.
“In Singapore, about 700 million kg of food is wasted every year, which is equivalent to two bowls of rice per person per day. From this, about nine million kg of perfectly edible food is thrown away by F&B businesses, which they don’t particularly enjoy doing,” shared Jennifer.
When it comes to food waste, we have to also be conscious of the resources when producing these food items. For example, “when a single egg is wasted, a whopping 200 litres of water to produce the egg are also wasted,” she explained.
It might seem fairly inconsequential to waste a single egg, but when you think about the ripple effect, it’s a good move to actually think twice about it.
Food waste is one of the biggest waste streams in Singapore and is a national priority. Food wastage impacts food security, fills up our only landfill space, and emits 25 times more harmful gases.Jennifer Ashianti Widjaja, founder of Just Dabao
Given the state of the world amidst rising global temperatures, increasing greenhouse gases, it seems like the world is in a rather precarious position.
How Just Dabao works
While we can’t solve all the world’s problems, Just Dabao is a step in the right direction. Right now, it is a community of over 12,000 eco-conscious individuals.
Just Dabao works like its namesake, in which customers peruse the website and pick it up from the store.
Every order at Just Dabao is called a “Shiok Bag”. Not only is it filled with food, but it is also discounted by 40 to 70 off of the retail price.
If that doesn’t get your Singaporean sensibilities tingling, here’s the cherry on top. The exact contents of the bag are also a surprise.
Just Dabao understands that not all surprises are pleasant, so it allows users to filter according to cuisine, diet and the location of the Shiok Bag. That way, you can still choose food items you like.
“Our customers love the surprise element, and it also helps them discover new food places nearby,” said Jennifer.
Not to mention, the Shiok Bag provides flexibility to the food businesses such as restaurants, cafes, bakeries, home-based businesses and other food shops to pack whatever ends up as surplus. “This makes the prediction around the surplus very easy,” said Jennifer.
Just Dabao and the prejudice of surplus food
Then, comes the technical question of how the surplus food is packed and selected. This is followed by whether the surplus food tastes as good, or is actually safe for consumption.
Jennifer is fully aware of these concerns and actively works to address the misconceptions towards surplus food. They have even done up a blind taste-test video, which proves that surplus food tastes just as good as the food you typically buy yourself.
“Food becomes ‘surplus’ only because it was not sold in time,” explained Jennifer.
Moreover, Just Dabao has stringent selection criteria to ensure the best for their customers. “And it shows in our results. We are proud to share that we have 4.5 stars rating with over 500 reviews on Judge.me portal.”
Jennifer explains that many people that use Just Dabao are repeat customers. “The majority of them keep coming back either to try a new food or to buy the same item.”
As of now, more than 350 food businesses have partnered with Just Dabao and started their green journey. They run the gamut from bakeries and cafes to home-based businesses to fine-dine restaurants — this is a heartening sight for Jennifer that so many have come forward to do their bit for the planet.
Furthermore, F&B businesses do not have to spend any additional resources to participate, and the consumers get rewarded for doing good with this model. A win-win situation, if I do say so myself.
“My vision is to make a sustainable living people’s first choice without having to compromise on their lifestyle,” summed up Jennifer.
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Featured Image credit: Just Dabao