The Sunday Times talks to Mr Preston Wong, 31, chief executive and lead innovator at treatsure, an app that serves as a mobile market place for businesses and consumers to sell and buy surplus food that would otherwise go to waste.
Q: How did you get started?
A: I saw my family throwing out consumables and expiring surplus food from our refrigerator and realised others are probably doing the same, perpetuating the problem of food wastage. An idea then sprang to mind. What if I were to build a platform to sell or share surplus food items?
Q: How did you marry technology and volunteerism to tackle food waste?
A: Charities such as Food From The Heart and SG Food Rescue are doing good work in reducing food waste, but the manpower needed to collect, sort and distribute surplus food is massive. A solution using technology would create greater impact. Kenneth (Ham, chief technology officer at treatsure) and I decided to address this problem by developing a mobile app. We did not know what we were getting into - long hours, no salary and emotional struggles. It took a year of market research, app development and sales pitches before we launched treatsure in September 2017.
Q: What has been the response to the app?
A: We did not start out with a lot of fanfare or media awareness. My sister and I just bought and distributed pastries at Raffles City Shopping Centre and Bugis Junction to people who were willing to listen, download our app and subscribe. Today, there are 20,000 subscribers and the number is growing.
Our business partners are nine hotels checked that allow users to pack food from their buffets, up to an hour before closing time, for $10 a box. Subscribers scan the QR code to buy a box. To sustain our viability, we take a cut from the businesses.
Q: What challenges did the Covid-19 pandemic and circuit breaker measures pose?
A: Before the pandemic, treatsure expanded into the surplus grocery space. We collaborated with start-up UglyFood to save food that had been rejected or cosmetically filtered because they were bruised, or had dented or torn packaging.
We are glad we did this because when the circuit breaker was imposed on April 7 - drastically changing the buffet experience - treatsure was able to continue in its quest to reduce food wastage. We work with online grocers, supermarkets and distributors, and manage to give these absolutely consumable foods a second lease of life.
Q: What's next for treatsure?
A: For now, the pandemic and subsequent restrictions remain an uncertain challenge for our buffet and hospitality segment. So, for subscribers, we hope to expand our list of grocery partners and products that can be saved, as well as offer users more accessible self pickup options. Our start-up will also look into research and development in new technologies and solutions in reducing food waste.
Q: Is cutting food waste just a business or also a part of your lifestyle?
A: My family and I exercise restraint, buy only what we need and do not overstock the fridge. We also find ways to repurpose excess ingredients.