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WHEN a wholly-owned subsidiary of local restaurant chain the Soup Restaurant Group first mooted its vision for a sustainable, long-term philanthropic effort in 2013, it was met with much scepticism.
Critics and faultfinders questioned if the firm would be able to live up to its lofty aspirations of giving back in a sustainable and long-lasting manner, given the tendency for corporates to partake in flashy, one-off CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives.
But Samsui Supplies and Services, a sauce producer and distributor of food products, stuck to its guns. It drew on inspiration from its namesake, the Samsui women, who were well regarded as industrious and thrifty people.
"Even the (people we are helping) initially questioned if we were in it for the long term; if we would just do it for one, two weeks, and then disappear," Samsui director Ang Kian Peng tells The Business Times over tea and peanuts.
He adds: "We also realised that a lot of CSR efforts are not sustainable, and it's also quite disruptive. You do CSR one time, and call it a day ... but what about the other 364 days?"
Spurred on to prove its naysayers wrong and by a desire to give back to the community, the three-year-old subsidiary today provides about 2,000 meals a day to beneficiaries such as the elderly and children in homes and care centres.
Samsui was cited by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget announcement in March as an "inspiring example" of a company that is contributing back to society.
The meals - usually local fare such as mee rebus, laksa and chicken curry - are provided at cost. Samsui "takes care of everything", Mr Ang says, from the purchasing of ingredients, to cooking and to delivery.
A typical meal journeys directly from the central kitchen of Samsui - which also supplies the Soup Restaurant chain's 14 outlets here - where it is cooked, blast chilled and vacuumed packed for optimal freshness.
It is then delivered by Samsui to the beneficiary homes, where it is heated before being served buffet-style. "By using the central kitchen and the cooking method, the logistics are improved and more efficient, and you need less manpower. It's the same method we use for our restaurants," says Mr Ang.
Another benefit of cooking in a centralised location is that the meals add to the volume of Samsui's orders when it purchases ingredients from suppliers. With a bigger volume, the firm is able to negotiate for bigger discounts.
As a result, the cost of an average meal for a beneficiary works out to between S$1.20 and S$1.70 per person, according to Mr Ang, which compares with a normal market rate of about S$5 and above for a meal.
"What we do is that we work on a very low budget; we go to our beneficiaries and discuss the budget they have and the constraints they have," he adds. "If they have a one dollar per person budget, then we will work within that budget."
Apart from providing daily meals, Samsui also partners with the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) to provide employment for 12 to 20 Minds trainees, who help to pack dry goods such as sugar and salt in its central warehouse.
Yet, despite Samsui's efforts thus far, Mr Ang thinks that more can be done. "We are limited by our capacity. We would like to do more; we are in the process of setting up a new central kitchen to fully focus on our charity projects ... more than 70 per cent of that output will be for the charity side of things."
The kitchen, which Mr Ang expects to be rolled out at the end of this year, will double Samsui's current capacity. "So a million meals per year is possible," he quips.
As the subsidiary ramps up its philanthropic efforts, Mr Ang points out that giving back does not have to be a bombastic effort. He says: "We try not to reinvent the wheel; we just do what we do best ... It's a win-win situation. We contribute back to the community using our skillsets, and these charities can just do what they do best.
"Best of all, it's proven to be sustainable."