Raffles Business Symposium 2020: Food Wastage

By Clarice Tan (21A01C) and Neo Xin Yuan (21A01D)

Like all other events in 2020, the Raffles Business Symposium (RBS) took a different form this year. Hosted entirely on a Zoom video conference call by the Raffles Entrepreneurship Network (REN), competitors, judges, emcees and viewers all attended from the comfort of their homes. Despite all these changes, the spirit of the Symposium still remained the same. The two main components of RBS are unchanged too—Symposium and Competition.

This year’s theme was Food Wastage, a relevant and important topic of discussion in today’s context. The RBS 2020 opening video provided news reports of increasing food wastage both globally and locally, and explained its negative impacts—wasted food not only produces methane, a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming, but it also serves to perpetuate food insecurity. 

Statistics on food wastage in Singapore as shown in the RBS opening video.

The Symposium

The Symposium began with an opening address by Chew Khai Xing (21A01A), the Chairperson of REN. He expressed REN’s mission to promote entrepreneurship among students through the symposium. This hasn’t changed with the shift from a physical platform to a virtual one. He added on to the food wastage discussion by pointing out that the disposal of excess food in homes and restaurants results in food waste due to overly large food portions, stressing the need for organic and ground-up initiatives to tackle the issue. He brought up The Food Bank Singapore and SG Food Rescue, two local ground-up initiatives that rescue and redistribute food to the needy. It’s clear that innovative and diverse ideas are needed now more than ever to reduce food waste.

The three speakers-cum-judges of the RSB included Ms Yeo Pei Shan, co-founder of UglyFood, Mr Preston Wong, co-founder and CEO of Treatsure, and Mr Rayner Loi, co-founder and CEO of Lumitics.

The three judges for RSB 2020!

Ms Yeo started her speech on food wastage by introducing her social enterprise, UglyFood, which strives to maximise the value of food resources, offer healthy and delectable food products, and educate people about food waste. Their slogan “ugly is the new tasty” sums it up perfectly—they rescue excess and blemished fruits, vegetables and mushrooms and transform them into juices, milkshakes, sorbets, and many other products. 

UglyFood started out as a student project from 2016-2018, only working with fruit stalls and wet markets to sell transformed food products. Now, it is a full-fledged social enterprise that works with food importers, supermarkets, and wholesalers to sell not only these products, but also fresh produce. 

Mrs Yeo urged budding entrepreneurs to be willing to ask questions and to avoid making assumptions. She added that interacting with people in the industry by joining programmes to meet like-minded people and potential mentors is also important in constructing a more effective solution, before emphasising the importance of being ready to fail and taking in feedback.

To end off her speech, Ms Yeo gave a few pro-tips for managing a business like hers. The suitability of target group(s) and stakeholders, feasibility and ease, sustainability,and the availability of collaboration opportunities are some important points to note when running a social enterprise, but most importantly, business owners must remember the need to ‘pivot’ when necessary. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of this: prior to the pandemic, UglyFood relied on footfall at their physical stall at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and other events. Now, in the midst of this new normal, they have switched to e-commerce, which has enabled them to reach out to more customers—truly a blessing in disguise.

A clip of applause sounds was played, ushering in the next speaker, Mr Preston Wong, the co-founder of Treatsure. Treatsure is Singapore’s first food-saving reservation app, connecting F&B businesses with surplus food to consumers. As the name suggests, Treatsure aims to get businesses and consumers to treat food as treasure.

Of course, the road to the app’s launch was not easy. Mr Wong brought up several challenges in app development, where a lack of resources with a small team meant the app was purely functional. They proceeded to experience business inertia, where rejections were plenty and a lack of consumer awareness proved an obstacle as the concept of Treatsure was considered too novel and idealistic in 2016, when sustainability wasn’t talked about much.

To raise awareness, they set up booths in schools, which took time. In 2018, they launched the first takeaway buffet-in-a-box concept in the Asia-Pacific region. When buffet-in-a-box is implemented, during the last 30-60 minutes of a buffet, surplus food can be packed and sold in a box for less than ten dollars. This ‘pack & go’ concept was instantly popular as customers enjoyed the economical prices and convenience, and tasted a wide variety of food, all in this fun package.

In 2019, Treatsure ventured into the delivery of surplus grocery produce and packaged food in collaboration with grocery suppliers and UglyFood. Overall, Treatsure has saved over 20,000 portions of food and boasts a user count of 20,000, with a 30% drop in wastage. 

Ending off his speech, Mr Wong remarked that he is optimistic in reducing food wastage as he has observed an increasing trend in sustainability in government agendas, rising local  (Hong Lim Park’s Climate Change Rally) and global climate activism (Greta Thunberg’s efforts), and the rise of ground-up and corporate environmental  initiatives.  

Mr Wong’s speech was followed by that of Mr Rayner Loi, who told the audience that he was from RI’s class of 2012, revealing his fondness for the school. He is passionate about food waste and entrepreneurship, making him the perfect guest speaker for this year’s RBS. He proceeded to share his personal reflections from the last three and a half years of his journey. Back in November 2016, he was a freshman in university taking a finance module, but already, he knew that it wasn’t for him—what he really wanted was to be his own boss. 

Naturally, he decided to set up a business of his own. He learnt two lessons from his experience embarking into entrepreneurship, which then formed the backbone of his speech. 

Firstly, he thought he knew what the market wanted and was too ready to launch as he thought his solution made perfect sense. The problem was that he made assumptions that he did not validate—even assuming that food waste was a problem for them was an assumption. As a result, not a single restaurant agreed to collaborate with him. Hence, he emphasised the need for a clear methodical process to validate assumptions and encouraged entrepreneurs to speak with potential customers.

His second insight was that he had gotten too caught up in thinking that their solutions were the best. He learnt to fall in love with the problem and not the solution, and developed a sense of self-awareness and humility—if their solution was not providing value to the customers, then they need to pivot. Seeking to understand the problems of customers and the industry is the first step to identifying and tackling the root problem.

“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.”

Mr Loi in his speech

Hence, Mr Loi’s company, Lumitics, aims to give hotels visibility and information on their food waste situation by collecting granular data on food waste and actionable insights on how to reduce it. He encapsulated his strategy in four simple words: Measured, Managed, Controlled, and Prevented. 

As students are largely inexperienced in entrepreneurship, sharings by the speakers allowed them to learn and understand more about how businesses in real life work, and to find holes in their proposals which tend to be too optimistic and idealistic.

Next to follow was a Q&A session for the judges. There were many questions for each of the judges, each pertaining to their individual specialised knowledge and experience with different facets of the food waste issue. For example, Mr Loi was asked about the trends in food wastage in Singapore’s outlets, and how to develop AI further to reduce specific food wastage, while Ms Yeo was asked to share ways to tell the difference between unsafe and ugly food. On the other hand, Mr Wong was asked about the impact of COVID-19 on air and hotel businesses. 

Questions for all three of the judges discussed intentions to expand their businesses beyond Singapore. All three judges answered each and every question earnestly, imparting valuable lessons and leaving a lasting impact on our hearts even as the spotlight shifted to the highlight of RBS—the competition. 

The Competition 

Finally, the symposium ended with the highly anticipated pitch competition between six finalist teams. Unlike previous years where they presented their ideas in front of a live audience, this year’s presentations took the form of pre-recorded videos. Nevertheless, they managed to put forth their innovative business ideas to both the panel of judges and the audience. From sharing the unique features of their products to delving into their financial plans and future developments, their pitches were certainly very compelling and interesting to listen to.

First up was Team Xanadu from St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI), who started off their pitch by painting a picture of the food waste situation in Singapore (Did you know that the current food recycling rate is under NEA’s target?), which highlighted the urgency of tackling the issue of food waste. They then went on to unveil their app Foodbar. The app ultimately provides an innovative solution to reducing food waste while priding itself on being efficient at the same time. For example, some of its services include a virtual marketplace and a food wastage tracker. The team also revealed their ambitious plans for the future, with them wanting to eventually expand globally.

Next, the pitch by Team Food Loops from Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) was centered around tackling plastic pollution and food wastage. Their product, Shellophane Sheets, is a form of biodegradable plastic that makes use of unwanted food waste, providing them with a competitive edge over plastic. The efforts put into market research were clear, with them giving a detailed explanation on the feasibility and immense potential of their product. Overall, the aim of Shellophane Sheets is to allow businesses to have more options when it comes to eco-friendly and sustainable packaging.

Team Cibus from RGS took the stage next to introduce their app Cibus. According to them, Cibus is an all-encompassing app that helps to tackle food waste meaningfully. Some features of the app include recipes which make use of ingredients available at home and a meal plan function. While they admitted that their entry into the market may be tricky due to the issue of economic stability, the team remained optimistic about the success of the app, as reflected in their implementation plan and financial projections.

Afterwards, it was SJI’s Team Target Zero’s turn to present their app Track X. They started off by declaring that “zero waste starts with us”, which undoubtedly demonstrated their commitment to tackling food wastage. As the name Track X suggests, one will be able to track the expiry dates of food items conveniently through the app, hence reducing food waste. Along with the more practical aspect of finances, the team also mentioned the special aspects of the app which will allow them to stand out in a market rich with competition. For instance, the app’s personalisation feature will definitely attract consumers with its customisable sorting system and varied selection of fonts.

The next team was another team from RGS—Team Waffles, with their solution named Forgotten Food. They hope to work with local farms to target food wastage as this partnership will fulfil the increasing demand for locally-sourced food and resolve the disconnection in the local food chain. Their presentation was supported by statistics which enhanced the workability of their business idea. The proposed strategies were experiential workshops, food and beverage services, and educational programmes. Similar to the other teams, they also wished to expand into foreign markets as part of their future plans.

Lastly, Team Enigma from RI presented Foodnigma, their solution to the increasingly common problem of food wastage. This is aptly summed up by their slogan, “nothing is ever wasted”. While composting might be something that not many of us have thought of doing, Foodnigma aims to turn this situation around by bringing composting directly to our homes. It operates on a point-based system where users can convert waste into rewards, thus incentivising consumers to use their product. The team also demonstrated how to use their product, which made their presentation all the more compelling as the audience got a firsthand look at how it worked.

After the impressive presentations by all the finalists, the judges then shared their insightful comments on each group’s business pitches. They not only commended the teams for their efforts and dedication, but also provided personalised feedback to the individual teams on how they could improve. 

As the symposium came to a conclusion, it was time for the awards presentation. Without a doubt, all the teams performed extremely well despite the constraints of Covid-19. The judging criteria included  the feasibility of the idea, the business strategies and competitive edge among others. Ultimately, Team Food Loops from RGS clinched first place, walking away with the grand prize of $400.

Results:

2nd runners-up: Team Xanadu from SJI

1st runners-up: Team Cibus from RGS

Champion: Team Food Loops from RGS

Congratulations to all the participants!

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