Penang is known to be a food heaven with its variety of foods, from char kuey teow and the famous ice kacang, foodies are spoilt for choice.
However, with so much food to choose from it has become a problem itself as a high volume of food wastage has been recorded in the state daily. Based on a report back in 2017, the Penang state government estimates food wastage to be at an average of 700,000 kg daily.
Most food wastage is said to come from food eateries, hotels and catering businesses. Furthermore, wedding and open house caterers have also been identified to be among the biggest contributors of food waste, followed by restaurants.
Finding Treasure In Trash
In a bid to solve this problem in Penang, Food Plus Life was established in May 2018 as an online platform for F&B businesses to channel edible food, cut down on wastage and save the environment.
Calvin Chan is the brains behind this project together with his partner Keeran, the both of them started Food Plus Life when they were still students in university.
The inspiration came from France when the country decided to establish a law to ban food waste, particularly in supermarkets.
“All food surplus has to be turned to energy, compost, animal food or even donated to charity,” he added.
However, the moment that Calvin knew when he really wanted to do something about it was when he and his partner witnessed good food being thrown right in front of them.
One late night when they were walking on Victoria Street in Penang, they saw a waiter bringing out a garbage bag and as they walked passed it they smelt something “strawberry-ish”. Upon closer inspection, they found that the smell came from croissants, doughnuts and pastries, and the pair were hit by a feeling of anger and sadness.
It spurred Calvin and Keeran to push forward with Food Plus Life and in December 2018, the team expanded as Jaxton Lim, Joshua Ong and Mozes Ong joined, bringing more experience and knowledge to the startup. The whole team are in their early 20s.
Turning Waste Into Cash
Calvin estimates that 18,000 tonnes of food are wasted daily and 3,000 tonnes of it are actually edible. In their first year of operations alone, the Food Plus Life team has helped to save 23,000 kg of food from being wasted in Penang.
“We provide a platform for F&B businesses to sell their food surplus at a discounted price so that they can reduce their food waste on a daily basis,” Calvin explained.
F&B partners just have to insert info about their food surplus into the platform and a notification will be sent to customers. Customers can choose what they want to buy from the platform and it can either be delivered or picked up.
The platform is only open to customers at 8PM daily as that is when most of the operators are closing and sell their food surplus. All food sold on the platform is still edible.
The food sold through the platform is also much cheaper than what you can get at shops as the Food Plus Life team has convinced F&B operators that the cheaper their food surplus is, the faster they are sold out.
“It has to be more than 50% off their menu price or a standard price for all the food, such as RM1 for all types of basic bread,” said Calvin.
The team only spent an initial capital of RM200, RM 70 to register the business, RM40 for posters, RM30 for Facebook ads and saved up the rest.
Their profit margins are 50% and since they were established until December last year, they’ve brought in a total sales amount of RM60,000.
Editor’s note: The piece has been updated to show the correct sales amount.
Becoming A Green Hero
As the business is totally dependent on supply and demand, it’s a challenge everyday to balance both.
“There are some nights when we have too many orders that we have a lack of supplies and we have to contact our customers to ask them to turn down some pre-orders,” he explained.
The F&B partners provide their surplus whenever they have it. It is uncertain to know when they have a surplus as some nights their sales could be good and some nights, they aren’t.
To overcome that problem or in this case lessen it, as it’s unavoidable, the Food Plus Life team have gotten more F&B outlets to join the platform. They’re also encouraging customers to subscribe to a package so that there is no need to worry that they won’t get anything when they order, because priority is given to subscribers.
However, he mentioned that many Malaysians are skeptical of the quality of the food offered on the platform as they’re afraid that it might be past expiration. Hence, he wants to share with people that there is a difference between “Expired On” and “Consumed By”.
“‘Consumed by’ is the estimation of a product duration to maintain its freshness. However, it doesn’t mean the food is unsafe to eat beyond that point,” Calvin explained.
On the other hand, “expires on” indicates a health risk when consuming the product after the date stated.
“I believe more awareness is needed to enlighten Malaysians about such labels so that we can reduce more food waste together as one nation,” he added.
In the future, the plan to rebrand Food Plus Life to a much catchier name that is easy to be remembered and recognised. With the plan of launching an app soon, Calvin stated that the name will change to Green Hero once the app is out.
“We will continue to launch our service to KL by the first quarter of the year with Ipoh and Johor by the end of the year,” he said. “We see potential in every state but we would like to start with those who are tech savvy to reduce food waste.”
Feature Image Credit: Food Plus Life