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The story starts with 26-year-old Daniel and his partner Monica celebrating one Valentine’s Day with a buffet lunch.

“We’re the kind of people that like to eat our money’s worth so we stayed till the end of the buffet hours,” he shared with Vulcan Post.

Towards the end of their meal, they noticed that the restaurant was still refilling the food section, making sure the spread still looked full.

Confused, Daniel asked the store manager what would happen to all the leftover food after the buffet ends. To his dismay, the store manager said that the protocol was to dispose of it all.

“Shocked and disappointed” were the two words that Daniel used to describe how he felt. With a quick Google search, he was confronted with the fact that the amount of edible food wastage yearly in Malaysia is the equivalent of feeding three meals a day to three million people.

Yet, instead of just feeling bad, he decided to do something about the situation.

He recalled that there was a company in Singapore by the name of Treatsure that worked with hotels to distribute surplus buffet food to the public. Other companies include TooGoodToGo, which is active in Europe and the US, as well as Yindii in Thailand and Hong Kong.

Image Credit: PaperBox

All these businesses are working to tackle food wastage through the method of selling discounted surplus food. But in Malaysia, such solutions are still rare.

Thus, Daniel and Monica realised that they could create a platform that tackles surplus food while offering affordable food options to the public. And that platform is PaperBox.

Starting up

Taking inspiration from solutions across the globe, PaperBox is an online platform where F&B businesses can market and sell their surplus food at a discounted price to the public before their closing time.

Soft-launched in March, PaperBox has been off to a good start, averaging around five bookings a day, mostly for bakery items.

Roughly RM85,000 went into the business to start it up. Most of this money has been channelled into the development of a mobile app.

Currently, Daniel and Monica are also raising funds through a crowdfunding platform called SimplyGiving. Donors will be given limited edition goodies in exchange.

For those wanting to have a stake in the business, PaperBox is also running an equity investor programme until the end of May.

At the time of writing, they have raised a total of over RM50,000. To further support their establishment, PaperBox is also speaking with Cradle Fund for potential opportunities.

How it works

Since PaperBox doesn’t have its app up and running yet, customers would need to browse PaperBox’s social media, then access a special Google Form to place their orders.

From there, you can select self-pick up or delivery options.

Image Credit: PaperBox

“To address the challenge of monitoring daily surpluses, we operate via a Surprise Box concept,” Daniel said. “We understand that bakeries generally have surplus goods daily that go unsold, so the idea is they would pack whatever surplus from that day into a Surprise Box.”

This Surprise Box would, of course, be offered at a cheaper price compared to its usual value.

In the future, an app will make real-time surplus food availability possible, and customer can book individual items or surprise boxes too through the app.

Onboarding vendors

Currently, PaperBox has over 20 vendors on its platform, ranging from bakeries to cafes to even grocery stores.

But what’s really in it for these vendors to join hands with PaperBox?

Daniel said that one of the major things is that surplus food incurs unnecessary costs. It’s a total no brainer for them to find ways to earn revenue from that food.

Image Credit: PaperBox

And this would count as a green initiative, thus contributing to any ESG or SDG efforts by the vendor. In any case, it would be a good CSR initiative.

“Even without the above, we essentially also provide a free marketing platform for our F&B partners at zero cost,” Daniel added.

He explained that vendors who are joining PaperBox during this soft launch period, which lasts until August 2024, get to enjoy a special lifetime rate and join completely for free with no hidden cost.

But how is PaperBox making money, especially since they’re not currently charging a fee for vendors? While it’s true that there’s no fee on be onboarded, PaperBox does collect a small commission for every booking made on the platform.

“Once our app is launched, our rates will be adjusted for new vendors, and we will launch a new subscription package for new vendors,” Daniel added.

They also intend to have an optional paid add-on benefit called Boost & Feature, where the platform will boost the vendor’s search visibility in the app.

“For the most part, most of the vendors we managed to arrange a meeting with signed onboard with us as there is very minimal risk with a lot of potential benefits,” Daniel said. “The more challenging part is getting to arrange that meeting.”

Thinking outside of the box

In the past, though, there have been entrepreneurs trying to do similar things to PaperBox. Yet, they haven’t seemed to have lasted.

Daniel said that they indeed have done some research on these other projects, but believe that PaperBox has a more systematic and sustainable approach to the issue.

Image Credit: PaperBox

For one, there’s the Surprise Box concept, which takes away the stress vendors may experience by having to constantly catalogue or update what’s available.

Secondly, PaperBox goes beyond surplus food and works with grocery stores too to promote their clearance or nearly expired items. The duo also anticipates working with mixed rice shops and cafes to sell not just their hot foods, but maybe even frozen ingredients that are nearing their expiry dates. 

Regarding their app, Daniel said, “We’re about 80% into the development and are excited to release it on the app store for both iOS and Android.”

By June, Daniel and Monica hope to achieve a minimum of 10 bookings per day and onboard 30 vendors.

With that, they aim to secure funding and government grants by July, which would help sustain the business for the next few years.

Once they raise enough funds, though, the vision is to create a collection centre that takes in surplus food that remain unsold after closing. This can either be donated to charity organisations or to other eco-organisations that can process the surplus food.

With these efforts, Daniel and Monica hope to create a less wasteful and more thoughtful F&B landscape in Malaysia.

  • Learn more about PaperBox here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: PaperBox

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(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)