Four in 10 cater for more guests than expected: NEA survey

Agency releases findings of study ahead of festive season to encourage Singaporeans to reduce food wastage

Four in five people surveyed wanted more information on how to reduce food waste. PHOTO: ST FILE

If there is one fear people in Singapore have when playing host during the holiday season, it is not having enough food to go around.

This is borne out by findings of a survey commissioned by the National Environment Agency (NEA), which found that four in 10 respondents - or 41 per cent - said they would cater for more guests than expected when they are hosting.

Another four in 10 said they would prepare just enough food for the expected number of guests, while the rest said they cater for fewer than the number of expected guests.

Mr Daniel Tay, founder of SG Food Rescue, said that this phenomenon could be due to Singaporeans' need to "save face".

He said people think it is "better to have more than enough and throw away the rest, than to have to deal with the embarrassment of not having enough food for guests".

The ground-up movement collects unsold food such as fresh produce, processed food items and even cooked food from businesses to redistribute to others, including friends, neighbours, cleaners, security guards and construction workers.

Mr Tay noted that free events or events that do not require registration also tend to have more food wasted. Event organisers often find themselves with large amounts of food to be thrown away - something that could have been prevented with adequate planning.

"Most of the time, reduction of food waste is an afterthought," he said. He suggests organisers contact "food rescue" groups a week ahead if they expect a lot of leftover food.

The findings of the study were released by NEA yesterday to encourage Singaporeans to reduce food waste during the festive season.

The survey, which covered 1,000 Singapore residents between March and April, sought to better understand consumer perceptions, behaviours and attitudes towards food waste. A similar survey of 1,000 individuals was conducted in 2015.

Ms Pui Cuifen, founding member of Foodscape Collective, a community for sustainable food systems, observed that caterers typically provide more food than the amount that is ordered.

"Knowing this, I'd typically order food for 75 per cent of the number of expected guests.

"I'd also ask guests in advance what food they would avoid, and confirm with them whether they would require food at the event."

Ms Fang Xinyan, 30, agreed with the move to cater for less than the number of people expected. The founder of local start-up YoRipe - a platform that suggests recipes to consumers based on their dietary preferences, health goals and cooking skills - said her rule of thumb is to cater for 20 per cent less than the number of guests expected.

"You will definitely have people who arrive having eaten, people who don't like what you prepared, or people who brought food along."

Since 2013, Ms Fang has been buying reduced-to-clear items such as chicken, vegetables and cheese when grocery shopping. These are fast approaching their expiry dates and sold by supermarkets at a discount. "I find that in Singapore, these items are still very fresh, even though they are going to expire."

Ms Fang developed an app - also called YoRipe, which she calls a "Google Calendar for food" - that allows users to track how much food they have left in their fridge and to remind them before the food goes bad.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2019, with the headline Four in 10 cater for more guests than expected: NEA survey. Subscribe