In a world plagued by mounting food waste and environmental concerns, Dr. Kwan Lui – a visionary entrepreneur and the founder of WellSpent Upcycling – has been working tirelessly to address these pressing issues through culinary innovation and sustainable practices.
As the director of At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy, Dr. Lui’s journey in the world of gastronomy first began in 2001. Armed with an impressive educational background, including a Master’s in Communication and Development and an honorary doctorate in Education Leadership, she set out to make a difference.
A year later after At-Sunrice’s establishment, the seeds of WellSpent were sown. The spark that ignited this groundbreaking business idea came when Dr. Lui attended the WorldChefs Congress in Greece back in 2017.
A keynote speech by Professor Herve This on breaking down farm vegetables into compounds to reduce spoilage waste and increase yield resonated deeply with Dr. Lui. She then saw an opportunity to apply this concept to other food streams and create sustainable, upcycled food products.
Turning food waste into valuable ingredients
WellSpent, a subsidiary of At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy, was officially founded in 2022 with a core mission to revolutionise the food industry.
We are the creators of sustainable and innovative food products and solutions that are derived from spent ingredients. By upcycling discarded food parts that are rich in nutrition, we bring food that not only tastes great, but is also good for the gut and extremely kind to the planet we all live in.
Beyond connecting with businesses to provide spent solutions, innovation in labs and facilitate spent exchange, we are also serving consumers with our packaged snacks, retail concepts, and other food products.– Dr. Kwan Lui, founder of WellSpent Upcycling
By reimagining sidestreams from food production that are typically discarded, WellSpent contributes to a circular economy, where waste is regenerated into valuable ingredients used back in the food production process.
Dr. Lui observed that Singapore, being a land-scarce non-agricultural nation, faces unique challenges related to food waste. With the majority of its food being imported, the country’s food production and manufacturing processes generate substantial sidestreams daily. This makes the work of WellSpent even more crucial in tackling the issue of food waste and promoting sustainability in the nation.
One of the initial challenges faced by WellSpent was convincing suppliers to provide food waste for their upcycling efforts. Many were sceptical and uninterested at first, but being affiliated with At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy – a respected culinary institution – played a significant role in gaining support.
Over time, WellSpent demonstrated the potential of their upcycled food products, gradually winning over more partners and suppliers. They make it a point to source discarded food parts from reputable food production companies, ensuring quality and safety in their ingredients.
Transforming food waste into safe and delectable meals initially took two years of research and development. However, with WellSpent’s culinary expertise and continuous innovation, this process has become much faster.
“There’s continuous R&D capability and we taste-test continually with about 200 students who are on campus daily,” remarked Dr. Lui.
She went on to identify a range of readily available sidestreams, such as eggshells, orange peels, coffee ground, tea ground, soya pulp, prawn shells, and defatted coconut spent.
From these sidestreams, they create an array of food products, including eggshell sea salt, orange peel marmalade, coffee and tea spent cookies, cakes, bread, noodles, spice paste, coating mix, and more.
Upcycled ingredients can also be turned into gourmet meals
Although misconceptions and resistance are common, WellSpent addresses these by offering samples and showcasing the delicious and nutritious results of their upcycling process.
To promote the adoption of upcycled foods, WellSpent introduced “WellSpent Evening”, where they present fine-dining experiences with each dish incorporating their upcycled ingredients.
These events have evolved into “Sunday Luxe” since 2022 – which takes place on the second and fourth Sundays of each month – offering a produce market, cooking classes, workshops and more, encouraging diners to experience the sustainability-driven culinary delights.
In June last year, WellSpent also hosted a fundraising gala dinner, where DBS was one of the donors.
The unique aspect of the event was that the menu incorporated some of the spent ingredients. Several DBS executives who were present were impressed by this innovative approach, and DBS Foundation later approached WellSpent to apply for their grant.
Seizing the opportunity, WellSpent presented their Orange Peel Marmalade, which became a stepping stone for a fruitful partnership.
According to Dr. Lui, the funds received from DBS Foundation were put to good use, fuelling market research and recipe development.
For one, their Orange Peel Marmalade has been transformed into Orange Peel Magic with versatile applications, including making drinks at their bar, OPM Den. Unsurprisingly, the product has been named the winner for the DBS Sustainability award.
DBS Foundation has been most encouraging. They conduct the DBS Done-in-a-Day programme, where DBS marketing and professional staff help us to crystallise our marketing strategy, distribution channels and target profiling. Recently, they also invited our team to attend a workshop to better measure social impact.– Dr. Kwan Lui, founder of WellSpent Upcycling
She also lamented that WellSpent has faced numerous challenges over the years, primarily centred around lack of awareness, insufficient marketing resources, and the reluctance of consumers and government agencies to embrace upcycled food.
Furthermore, the cost to upcycle is also much higher as the supply chain is in its infancy stage.
Through DBS Foundation’s backing, WellSpent found a breakthrough by providing corporate catering for DBS events via WellSpent’s Gourmet2Go platform. Notably, Gourmet2Go is Singapore’s first and only upcycled food platform, representing a business opportunity that aligns with food sustainability initiatives.
“Now, government agencies, schools, and corporations are more receptive to buying our products or trying our cooking classes with a sustainability theme,” said Dr. Lui.
The collaboration with DBS Foundation has been a game-changer for WellSpent. Not only has it provided essential resources, but it has also added credibility to their mission.
Being endorsed by Singapore’s biggest bank and the world’s leading sustainability bank, DBS has opened doors to more spent suppliers, further amplifying the impact of WellSpent’s work.
Based on their experience, WellSpent wholeheartedly recommends DBS Foundation to other social enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses as the collaboration has significantly boosted their business, offering both tangible and intangible benefits.
DBS Foundation’s commitment to the success of its award winners demonstrates their genuine passion for driving positive change, which Dr. Lui finds “heartwarming”.
With a focus on upcycling and sustainability, WellSpent has been able to transform challenges into opportunities and drive meaningful change in the fight against food waste. Thanks to DBS Foundation, WellSpent continues to expand its impact, leaving a lasting legacy of sustainability for future generations.
Reshaping the future of food with sustainable solutions
While COVID-19 posed challenges for At-Sunrice’s core training business, the pandemic led to the birth of their “Covid baby”, the WellSpent division. Shifting focus and resources to upcycling proved to be a strategic move, opening up new possibilities during challenging times.
Their sales had grown 96 per cent year-on-year from FY2021 to FY2022, and an additional nine per cent from FY2022 to the first six months of 2023. Meanwhile, its net profit surged by 161 per cent from FY2021 to FY2022, and a further 56 per cent from FY2022 to FY2023.
Looking ahead, Dr. Lui envisions a promising future for upcycled foods, noting that recent scientific validations on the health benefits of consuming high-fibre foods are further propelling WellSpent’s mission.
Driven by the belief that upcycled foods are tasty, gut-friendly and environmentally-conscious, she is optimistic about the tremendous potential of this business.
With plans to work with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to scale their products and services, WellSpent continues to make strides in building a sustainable future for the food industry.
Dr. Lui’s passion and dedication, combined with the support of DBS Foundation, have allowed WellSpent Upcycling to lead the charge in transforming food waste into delightful and responsible culinary experiences, making the world a better place, one meal at a time.
If you are keen to find out more about DBS Foundation and join its growing community of impact-driven businesses, check out its page here.
This article was written in collaboration with DBS Foundation.
Featured Image Credit: Nestia / Peatix