How to help prevent food waste, one restaurant meal at a time

And at a discount!

The next time you throw away perfectly edible food, leftovers, or food items that have expired because you forgot them in your pantry or fridge, watch this. ⬇

The thing is, this isn’t the only video that tackles the problem of food waste – there’s now a lot more, plus articles too. But it’s enough for Jennifer Widjaja, the co-founder of Just Dabao, to step up and do something about it.

“It gave us the inspiration to look beyond the traditional means of reducing food waste, and focus on incentivising people so that they can help too.”

Here’s how

If you haven’t caught on, Just Dabao is a social enterprise in Singapore with a mission to help reduce food waste. 🙂

Jennifer Widjaja, Just Dabao
With Jennifer at the helm

It does so by partnering with eateries and giving them a platform to sell their surplus and unsold food items online at a discount – which can reach up to 70% off.

They offer a wide range of cuisines, desserts, baked goods, salads, beverages, food plates and bowls, and more. Orders are for pick-up, and come in what they call Shiok Bags: Consumers make their choice based on details like the cuisine or type of food (for example, “Chinese”, “vegan” or “ice cream”), the original and discounted price, and the restaurant’s location – but they don’t know the exact items they’re getting, because it’s actually a surprise.

Cool, huh? 👏

According to Jennifer, it all started during the Circuit Breaker in 2020.

“I could not bear to see some of my favorite eatery ‘uncles’ close shop,” she reveals.

I was truly heartbroken as their years of hard work and excitement turned to dust due to something beyond their control. The ones that remained are now economically burdened. The food and beverage (F&B) industry was especially hit hard – the sector reported a year-on-year loss of almost 30% at Q3 of 2020. So I decided to take action and help them!

“My focus was on the F&B sector and I was researching on ways to help out,” she continues.

“Eventually, I came across the food waste problem in Singapore. From the National Environment Agency’s website, I understood that Singapore generates about 700 million kg of food waste and only less than 15% is recycled. Food waste is a logistics issue!

“I knew that if I can help address the food waste problem, it will not only help the eateries, but the environment too.”

The rest came naturally… and slowly but surely. “I’ve always believed that incentivising is way better than enforcing. For example, in this video, people are incentivised to choose stairs vs escalators. Instead of telling them that taking stairs is healthy, which rarely motivates, they made it fun,” Jennifer relates.

My vision is to remodel sustainability as people’s first choice without them having to compromise on their lifestyle, and create a win-win situation. I wanted to connect the logistical challenge of food waste, the F&B crisis, and the incentive structure.

“After several scrapped ideas, I finally came up with the Just Dabao concept. Through our concept, we helped eateries gain new customers.” And at no cost.

Here’s a good example: “Very recently, one of our customers received a bakery item. She liked it so much that she wanted the exact flavour again – so she bought a full-priced one the next time,” Jennifer recounts.

What’s more, “Eateries are now changing their behavior and are more concerned with reducing food waste than making money. Some of our restaurants really set a low price to make the items sell out.”

But it’s not over

There are still other underlying problems to think about and shine a light on. Jennifer lists carbon emissions, limited landfill space in Singapore, and food insecurity among them.

“(I also want to) dispel the myth that surplus food is bad quality and an avoidable waste,” she declares. “In fact, it’s the same quality food that you get if you bought it at a restaurant. We even made a video on this.”

Just Dabao
And they even had a blind taste test

Then again, running Just Dabao resulted in her having good “problems” too. 😊

“Working with multiple stakeholders has given me an interesting perspective on how a desired circular economy can be, and how food waste is really a logistics problem at the end of the day,” she muses.

“Working with home bakers and merchants in established restaurants also gave me a sense of hope and excitement,” she goes on. “With the F&B industry being more and more competitive and tougher each year, it's heartwarming to see owners, chefs and bakers being so open to new green concepts, which not only help the environment, but also put in a conscious behaviour change.

“Of course, it hasn’t been an easy journey, especially in the first few months of launching Just Dabao. It is still a new concept and hence, it takes a lot of effort, patience, grit and persistence to get your first few believers onboard. However, when you start seeing results, it really drives me to do better every day.”

“To tackle any challenge, it has to be broken down into small manageable pieces. So don’t be afraid to start small. Knowingly or unknowingly, your consistent small acts will create a butterfly effect and motivate more people to join forces.”

We’re not surprised

Because with their innovative Shiok Bags, you’re bound to see results. In fact, one Shiok Bag is probably enough to make a believer out of anyone. Can you imagine the food and money you’ll save? It is one of the main draws of using Just Dabao, after all – and for good reason. 🙂

Just Dabao Shiok Bag
A sample of what's inside a Shiok Bag

“The concept of the Shiok Bag is really cool, because it gets you to come out of your comfort zone and try new and fun food items,” Jennifer observes. “The best part is that not only can you explore new foods, but you help the environment too.”

For instance: “Saving three Shiok Bags is equivalent to the amount of CO2 emissions prevented with one car driven for a full day! This really drives home that feel-good factor that even the smallest action can have a big impact.”

The quality, variety, and element of surprise are factors as well. Just consider the Shiok Bags that Jennifer has seen so far – and you’ll also have a chance to buy. 😉

#1 Canelés

These pastries are from Cassia Canelés. “They’re amazing because every time you buy a Shiok Bag, it will always contain a variety of canelés for you to try,” she points out.

“The baker also loves to try new recipes, so you’re lucky if you get the new flavour! Some of the flavours our customers get include speculoos, elderflower yuzu, ispahan, hot cocoa, coffee, pandan with kaya, and the original.”

#2 Salads

The Salad Shop is always generous with their servings, and you get more than what you bargained for most times. The salads are healthy and value for money.”

#3 Complete meals

Marché has a great combination of soup, sandwich or pastry, and drink in one Shiok Bag. Every combination is different per Shiok Bag.”

#4 Wines

“It’s wine, so you can’t go wrong there,” Jennifer jokes, referring to the Shiok Bags of Brown Bag Wines. “It’s organic too, and the merchant is a huge advocate of sustainability, so there’s a lot of synergy.”

#5 Nut butters

At Eatnuf, you receive “yummy nut spreads with no sugar, salt or preservatives”, she says. “They’re natural and healthy. And delivery is free!”

But there’s more to the goodies inside a Shiok Bag, though. “I personally love a Shiok Bag that has a story behind it,” Jennifer shares. “All our Shiok Bags have a unique story of how they ended up in our platform.

“When I know that I have saved this Shiok Bag, I feel really good as it satisfies my hunger and cravings, and that extra thought that you have saved all this food just makes your day sweeter.”

More perks

At the end of the day, on top of helping the eateries, having the Shiok Bags and their advantageous prices, and the fact that they contribute to a good cause, is this unique opportunity to connect with people – and provide “a pathway to encourage more consumers to shift towards sustainable living”.

“My absolute favourite things about Just Dabao are its customers, merchants and employees,” Jennifer states.

“Majority of our customers are eco-conscious individuals. When they express their support and excitement for the concept with gratitude, it makes me forget all the pain and pressures of the startup. I love it when we are able to bring a pleasant surprise to them with our Shiok Bags.

“Also, many of our merchants started out to make extra money,” she adds. “However, they soon experienced satisfaction through sustainable solutions, and now they are more inclined to work with us closely with the purpose of reducing food waste rather than gaining back sunk costs.

“I feel especially happy when a Just Dabao customer returns to the merchant as a full-paying customer. I feel I am helping these burdened merchants.”

Plus: “I am fortunate to have the support of passionate employees who truly fight for the cause. The entrepreneur’s journey is a lonely one, but with colleagues like them, it makes everything bearable and fun.”

Let’s order a Shiok Bag to celebrate that. 😊

Find Just Dabao on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

“Positive contributions to the environment can also mean positive contributions to one’s business.”