This millennial quit a job as a financial analyst to become a food warrior with S$30,000

Jennifer Widjaja and her university friend Srikanth Katikala have invested S$30,000 in the business. (PHOTO: Just Dabao)

By Prince Lee

SINGAPORE — Ex-financial analyst Jennifer Widjaja had no idea she would become a food waste warrior halfway through her career.

Indeed, the co-founder of Just Dabao — a social enterprise founded in 2020 with her university friend Srikanth Katikala that helps reduce food waste by redistributing unsold surplus food by connecting consumers and restaurants — was energized by the struggles food-and-beverage (F&B) businesses faced during the pandemic, where perfectly edible, unsold food was thrown away daily.

In 2021 alone, the total amount of food waste generated was 817,000 tonnes, 23% more than the 665,000 tonnes generated in 2020, according to data from the National Environment Agency.

This, coupled with the awareness of not wasting food – something ingrained in her by her mother since she was young – motivated her to work towards a simple, scalable solution that turned out to be a partnership. win-win for consumers and businesses.

Maximize profits and societal benefits

Today, Widjaja has inspired a community of over 20,000 environmentally conscious people to take advantage of the process of saving food and has helped over 450 restaurant businesses embark on their green journey. In August 2022, Just Dabao saved more than 10 tons of food.

“This year, we have consistently seen double-digit month-over-month growth. We have also just launched our mobile app, which will help drive further growth,” Widjaja said, noting that July was the one of their best months this year.It could also indicate that consumers are looking for ways to fight inflation and also want to become more environmentally conscious.

With the app, consumers will find it easier to discover food surpluses, as the app will instantly notify users when there is a surplus of food – for various reasons such as excess stock or cancellation of orders. events – close to them. Users will then be able to get their favorite food at a fraction of the cost, while saving the planet.

Overall, restaurants in Singapore throw away 9 million kg of unsold food every year! On a daily basis, this amounts to around 50,000 perfectly edible Nasi Lemak plates.Just Dabao

Before launching the app, Just Dabao relied solely on its website. Similarly, consumers browse the site, make a purchase at one of Just Dabao’s partner stores and collect a “Shiok Bag”, a surprise bag of groceries.

“This way, companies recoup their sunk costs and consumers get delicious food at a great price. With an average rating of 4.5 stars from over 2,000 reviews, I can say that Singapore likes a good surprise,” said the 30-year-old.

But it hasn’t always been easy. When she started, Widjaja didn’t have the “right connections”, so her network had to be “built from scratch”. Together, Widjaja and Katikala have also invested S$30,000 in the business and, at press time, the business is “not yet profitable”. The two co-founders have also just started paying each other.

Also, fundraising as a social enterprise was no picnic.

She lamented, “Investor sentiments towards social enterprise startups are generally conservative and take a long way to take a big break. It’s a challenge to communicate to investors that a social enterprise can be as scalable and profitable as a typical startup.

Fortunately, Just Dabao received a grant from Enterprise Singapore and Singapore Center for Social Enterprise programs, while the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Environment and the National Environment Agency have always been supportive.

“When we hosted our first event, a food surplus banquet, Minister of State Amy Khor quickly agreed to attend and showed her support,” she recalls.

Rising food prices

Widjaja says Singapore, which imports 90% of its food, can improve food security by starting with the “lowest fruit” by reducing food waste at home and in offices, as it has a “direct and immediate impact “.

“Food prices increased by 3.3% in 2021 compared to 2019 (pre-pandemic), and discarded food waste has increased by 10% since 2019. Indeed, by wasting more food, we contribute to a price hike,” she said. .

However, the issue of food waste is complicated, as it involves multiple stakeholders along the food chain with different priorities. This is something Widjaja thinks the government can help more – to promote collaboration across industries and connect stakeholders in the movement towards reducing food waste.

“From conversations I’ve had with many business owners, measuring impact is a big challenge. Government can help measure progress at the consumer level and compile the fragmented data into one only source,” she explained.

Still, she is encouraged that more F&B owners understand the importance of sustainable approaches, but points out that there is a “huge gap”, where some still feel they have to give up commercial gain to adopt an approach. more sustainable.

“It’s actually more profitable to be sustainable. For example, when compact bins replace traditional bins, collection costs can be reduced by 80%, while reducing carbon emissions,” Widjaja said.

But systems and habits need to change, and Just Dabao strives to continuously educate and collaborate with catering businesses, consumers, governments, schools, NGOs and businesses to have impact at scale. and achieve its zero waste goal.

“If we can anchor ourselves in the minds of millions of people to adopt a greener practice while beating inflation during this time, we can create a truly sustainable and circular way of life,” she said.

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