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Green Is The New Black

Just Dabao: The startup helping Singapore rescue food

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What if you could order your favourite foods for a fraction of the price? Just Dabao is here to offer a sustainable solution to food waste in Singapore that brings you everything from local favourites to organic wine and craft beer at a fraction of the price.

Born amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Just Dabao brings perfectly edible surplus food to your table at discounted prices — a win-win deal for Just Dabao’s customers and partner eateries. They have curated partners islandwide who sell off their surplus food at certain times during the week where you can pre-order and then collect. Or you can get a mystery surprise with their Shiok bags. Not only supporting local restaurants and businesses but also reducing the amount of perfectly good food that gets wasted on a daily basis. And you get to save. Win-win-win. You can search by region, delivery, pick up, cuisine, diet, and even pick up in eco-friendly packaging! 

We had a chat with Jennifer Widjaja, co-founder of Just Dabao, on their mission to reduce food waste by selling unsold food from eateries. Jennifer previously worked for large corporations such as P&G and Bloomberg before starting Just Dabao in 2020. 


Why did you start Just Dabao?

My vision of Just Dabao is to remodel sustainability as people’s first choice without compromising on their lifestyle by creating a win-win situation. I want to reinforce that positive contributions to the environment can also mean positive contributions to one’s business. In 2020, I learnt that many eateries could not sustain the lockdown and eventually closed down. 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% in Q3 of 2020. 

For a typical Singaporean, food is the second highest expenditure after rent. On one hand, a lot of food is wasted. On the other hand, people’s wallets have been stressed because their income levels dropped during COVID. I took these two above challenges and created a practical and scalable solution that helps eatery owners gain back sunk costs and find new customers at no cost. Also, a solution that helps the average Singaporean consumer maintain their original lifestyle of having good quality food for themselves and their family. Just Dabao is a bridge not just between sustainable living and the conscious consumer but also a pathway to encourage more consumers to shift towards this sustainability.


What did you do before this? Was there an ah-ha moment where you realised you wanted to help solve the food waste problem?

Prior to Just Dabao, I worked with successful startups in the e-commerce industry in Indonesia and a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-backed social enterprise startup in healthcare. Moreover, I have previously worked in large corporations such as P&G and Bloomberg. To be honest, there was not an Aha moment. It was always something that I wanted to pursue. However, what drove me to take action was when my friends in the F&B industry were greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and hence, it got me working towards a simple and scalable solution. 


How big is the food waste problem in Singapore?

Eateries discard about 9 million kg of surplus food a year. In 2019, Singapore generated around 744 million kg of food waste. That is equivalent to 2 bowls of rice per person per day!  We are facing a national food waste crisis. Combating food wastage is a national priority because this issue impacts its food security, fills up our only landfill space, and emits 25x harmful gases. When we waste food, we are not just discarding the end product. We would also be wasting the resources that have been used in the production of the food. For instance, a single egg requires a whopping 200 litres of water to produce.


Are there any myths or misconceptions you’d like to bust around food waste or conversations that come up over and over for you?

Many people have this misconception that surplus food is not safe to eat. This is untrue. Almost all kinds of food can be eaten even at the end of the day and several types of food can be kept for a few days. On Just Dabao, our eatery partners will only sell perfectly edible food. Some people may think that surplus food doesn’t taste as good as regular food (watch our specially curated blind-taste test video that debunks this myth!). Many of our customers have left good reviews about the quality and taste of our Shiok Bags (mystery bags containing unsold surplus food from our eatery partners).


What is the most surprising thing that’s happened to you during this journey?

The most surprising thing is how receptive and open Singaporeans are towards new eco-concepts. Starting a startup is no easy feat but having customers and merchants around you who believe in your cause and support you is really what keeps the team and me going every day. 


What are some little green steps readers can take to reduce their food waste and support?

Reducing food waste does not require a lot of extra effort. If you can’t finish your food when dining out, you can “dabao” (pack) it home. At home, you can cook using whatever is already in your kitchen instead of buying ingredients. You can also freeze your leftovers and heat them up for consumption later. And of course, you can always buy a Shiok Bag from Just Dabao. One Shiok Bag bought is equivalent to 1 kg of carbon emissions saved! With 3 Shiok Bags saved, the amount of emissions saved is equivalent to driving a car for a full day. 


What are your future plans? 

We plan to spread more awareness and increase positive reinforcement through Singaporeans and eventually the whole of Asia. And to conquer food waste. 


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