Food-related firms with social mission like Boxgreen a big draw: Co-founder Walter Oh

Mr Walter Oh, co-founder of social enterprise Boxgreen, which sells healthy snacks and donates a meal equivalent to soup kitchen Willing Hearts for every box of snack packs delivered.
Mr Walter Oh, co-founder of social enterprise Boxgreen, which sells healthy snacks and donates a meal equivalent to soup kitchen Willing Hearts for every box of snack packs delivered. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The success of home-grown snack firm Boxgreen is highlighting the growing trend of socially conscious consumers turning to food-related social enterprises.

Boxgreen sells healthy snacks and donates a meal equivalent to soup kitchen Willing Hearts for every box of snack packs delivered.

Across Asia, socially aware consumers are flocking to businesses that are not just profit-driven, but also have a social mission.

Launched in May last year, Boxgreen has grown from its three founders to a team of 14 employees. Last year, it delivered around 75,000 snack packs across the island and has plans to expand to Malaysia this month.

Apart from giving food to charity, Boxgreen also uses sustainable packaging - as its name suggests.

  • SINGAPORE COFFEE FESTIVAL 2016

    WHERE: F1 Pit Building, 1 Republic Boulevard

    WHEN: June 9 to 12, 11am to 9pm daily (June 9 for media and trade only, by registration)

    ADMISSION: $18 (standard), $44 (standard group same-day entry), $43 (VIP entry). Up to $5 off ticket prices for DBS/POSB cardholders; $28 for three-day pass for DBS/POSB cardholders. Available from Sistic - go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555.

    INFO: sgcoffeefestival.com.sg

"Socially conscious consumers look a lot at whether the packaging reduces wastage... whether the food is sourced ethically and if there is a social cause behind the business," said co-founder Walter Oh.

Boxgreen's craft boxes are triple the price of regular boxes but "the cardboard ties back to our products being more natural, and customers are reminded to recycle", he said.

"Some customers find us through Instagram, where we also post pictures of us having fun helping out at Willing Hearts.

"Nowadays, people purchase for a reason and genuine pictures that tell the story behind a brand work better than advertising on Facebook," Mr Oh added.

Another social enterprise is Bali's first large-scale cashew-processing facility, East Bali Cashews (EBC). The firm reduces the carbon footprint of cashews grown in Bali by processing them locally, among other things, and giving jobs to locals.

Founded in 2012 by American entrepreneur Aaron Fishman, EBC started out selling its products to local hotels and restaurants. It has since expanded to six international markets, including Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Its business development manager Jonas Preisler said: "Urban, healthy, socially conscious consumers are usually most receptive to our products."

To market its products, EBC approaches "opinion makers, blogging communities and social media circles".

"Food-related communities have very strong followings... food is a lifestyle for many people, whether for health or sustainability reasons," said Mr Preisler. EBC processed 180,000kg of cashews in its first year. By its third year, it was processing five times the amount.

In a similar vein to EBC, Kakoa Chocolate is an Indonesian-based social enterprise that works with local cocoa farmers to produce quality chocolate and sell it through an online store as well as retailers.

"We target customers who are looking for ethical products of high quality," said founder Sabrina Mustopo. Kakoa was in two locations by the end of 2014, when it was founded. Now, it is in about 30.

Social enterprises like Kakoa, Boxgreen and EBC will be at the Singapore Coffee Festival presented by DBS Bank and hosted by The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2016, with the headline 'Food-related firms with social mission a big draw'. Print Edition | Subscribe