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COMPANY OF GOOD

Whetting appetites for cutting waste

Food Bank S'pore is on a mission to feed the needy by roping in firms and the public to salvage near-expired and excess food.

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Project Xpired (above), an initiative by The Food Bank Singapore, the main CSR arm of FoodXervices. The project seeks to transform expired food such as beans, chips, instant noodles, pasta and desiccated coconut into sculpted works.

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Singapore

WOULD you wear a skirt made of Indomie plastic packaging or a necklace fashioned out of pasta?

These trendy pieces were featured on Project Xpired, an event organised by The Food Bank Singapore, which is the main corporate social responsibility project of FoodXervices.

Siblings Nichol Ng, 41, and her brother Nicholas, 40, are founders of the food-service company, which basically functions like a hypermart where customers can select and purchase products through bulk orders.

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They wanted to raise awareness about food nearing expiry when they set up The Food Bank Singapore in 2012.

The concept of "food bank" dates back to the late 1960s in the United States, and the duo wanted to introduce it to Singapore.

Mr Ng said: "The idea came about over a cup of coffee. We had set up FoodXervices in 2007, and our family has been in the food business since 1930s as our grandfather set up a provision shop along Rochor Road. Being in this line, it is inevitable that we see food wastage. And sometimes, they are not even expired. So after discussing with my sister, we decided to set up The Food Bank Singapore to give the excess food to people who need it."

Now a leading distributor of over 4,000 products catering to a wide variety of F&B and hospitality establishments, FoodXervices is trying to get its customers on board to do their part for the environment.

Mr Ng said: "Last year, we embarked on selling sustainable vegetable oil. It is more expensive, but we bit the bullet and decided to do our part for the environment. We sell the oil to our customers and collect the leftover from them to recycle, by passing it on to a biofuel company that we are working with."

The Food Bank Singapore collected about 385 tonnes of food in 2018, compared to just 2 tonnes in the first year. However, it was not all smooth sailing in the initial stage.

The founder said that it was tough to get the companies on board to donate food, out of fear that beneficiaries would fall ill after consuming near-expired food. However, Mr Ng added that since they decided to embark on this project, they soldiered on, continuing to ask firms for food donations and got help from some companies who were willing to do food bundling and packing.

Besides having to get the companies involved, Mr Ng said: "We had to educate the beneficiaries as well. Some of them had really specific requests, for example, they wanted only food of a certain brand. We had to explain to them that a tub of peanut butter of any brand probably originated from the same factory. It is better now, as they understand that a brand has nothing to do with the quality of food. The other issue is that we do not have companies pledging food donations, which leads to fluctuations in the amount donated at times."

A Red Cross Home for the Disabled spokesperson said: "The food from The Food Bank Singapore reaches out to our home's residents through the meals we provide daily, and we realised it is not how expensive the items are or the brand of the food, but it is being able to give good food to the less fortunate."

The National Environment Agency website shows that 636,900 tonnes of food was disposed in 2018 and ranks among the top five types of waste in Singapore.

Mr Ng said: "It was hard to get the big firms to donate since day one. We do get the occasional calls and emails from SMEs to say that they would like to donate food. But it is harder to capture the big guys. There is so much more the supermarkets can do.

"On a side note, the infrastructure of our flats also can be changed to support food recycling. For example, we could do away with the 'one chute down' structure."

Since its establishment, The Food Bank Singapore has taken a life of its own. Mr Ng added that engaging in CSR could make good business sense as well. He cited the case of one US-Canadian company which was looking for a distributor in Singapore and decided to choose Foodxervices for its Food Bank activities.

He added that millennials are also attracted to firms involved in CSR. A Singapore Management University graduate applied for a job with Foodxervices because of its Food Bank background, Mr Ng said.

Jessie Tan, staff member of The Food Bank Singapore, said: "After coming back from an exchange programme in Europe during my last year of university studies, I saw the challenges and conditions of many refugees which compelled me to do something more meaningful back in Singapore. Working for this company, I realised that food is so easily accessible for many, yet not available for others."

As for future plans for The Food Bank, Mr Ng said: "Annually, we think of innovative projects to raise awareness about food waste and hunger. There's definitely a possibility to bring Project Xpired back when our new building is ready at Pandan Loop end of the year."

He added that there is much to be done for the needy in Singapore: "If one day we can solve the problem here, and we still have excess, the next idea is to donate to neighbouring countries. If nobody needs the excess food anymore, we can close down The Food Bank Singapore - which we will gladly do."

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