For the average Singaporean, eating at a hotel would not be an everyday affair. In fact, it is an indulgence that may typically be reserved for special occasions. So, imagine our surprise when we found ourselves at a hotel during lunchtime – not to dine in, but to take away food from their restaurant.
We were met at the entrance by Preston Wong, the co-founder of sustainability tech start-up treatsure. After guiding us through the purchase process on treatsure’s mobile app, he hands us a biodegradable takeaway box. “Here you go,” he says, “Head on in and enjoy your lunch!"
From steaming hot mains to an extensive array of sweet treats, the delectable lunch buffet certainly left us spoilt for choice. As we started adding food into our box, one thought crossed our minds: how much of these perfectly-consumable dishes would be discarded at the end of every meal service?
Tackling food wastage
Food waste is exactly the issue that the team wants to tackle, especially with it being a top source of wastage in Singapore – amounting to 813,000 tonnes in 2022.
A routine refrigerator clean-out at home one day – during which he saw his family discarding expiring, but still consumable food – made Preston wonder if there was a better way to redistribute these items, instead of merely throwing them away.
This became the starting point for treatsure, which he started in 2016 with his then-university schoolmate Kenneth Ham. “When I looked deeper into the issue of food wastage, I realised it’s quite a big problem. At the time, Kenneth and I were attending entrepreneurship classes, and this inspired us to explore how we could tackle food wastage differently, and develop something that would create a positive impact. We also saw an opportunity for technology to play a part in facilitating this.”
(Photo by Type A)
Finding gaps in the market
Preston first conducted on-ground surveys to find out if people would be willing to accept surplus food items, or sell any extras they have to others. “Food wastage issues were not commonly discussed back then,” he recalls. “The response was not positive, especially since there is a stigma surrounding such practices which still exists today.”
With the redistribution of surplus household groceries not a viable option, they began searching for other sources of surplus food, which included F&B (food and beverage) merchants like cake shops and bakeries. Eventually, they started to explore another area that generates a hefty amount of food waste: hotel buffets.
At the start, not many hotels were quick to jump on board. “There were some initial reservations, but over time, they began to see how this initiative worked out for other hotels.”
(Preston works closely with 15 hotel partners to push out treatsure’s ‘buffet-in-a-box’ initiative; in this picture is Preston with the executive chef of a hotel partner. / Photo by Type A)
To date, treatsure has 15 hotel partners in their ‘buffet-in-a-box’ network. This initiative benefits both customers, who can enjoy good quality food at a fraction of the price of standard hotel buffets; as well as hotels, which can reduce the amount of food that is wasted.
(The ‘buffet-in-a-box’ allows customers to enjoy hotel buffet-standard food at affordable prices. / Photo by Type A)
The company also has tie-ups with a range of small grocers and suppliers, which allow their users – close to 80,000 of them – purchase surplus food items nearing their best before or use by date at cheaper prices. These include artisanal bread, produce like fruits and vegetables, and even specialty products like truffle butter and organic yoghurt.
(Preston packing the surplus groceries at his concept store. / Photo by Type A)
Along with the buffet-in-the-box initiative, these are made accessible via their mobile app – touted as “Singapore’s first app for surplus food in hotel buffets and grocers”.
Through such efforts so far, Preston estimates that at least 50 tonnes of food have been saved from going to waste.
“Our name [treatsure] is a hybrid of ‘treat’ and ‘treasure’,” Preston explains. “There are a few layers of meaning to this, with ‘treat’ representing a lot of good offers on our mobile app, and ‘treasure’ to emphasise that we should treasure food because it is precious. We want customers to enjoy quality food, while making sure it does not go to waste.”
Like any start-up venture, Preston and his team have had their fair share of challenges, from technical hiccups to manpower woes. However, the biggest challenge is one that he is still actively working on: changing perceptions and behaviours. They also conduct food sustainability events, workshops and tours for schools and corporations, as part of efforts to change mindsets towards surplus food.
“I am aware that perceptions cannot be changed overnight, and it will take a significant amount of time to do so. We need more educational efforts to raise awareness. But I am hopeful that our efforts to reduce food wastage will eventually become mainstream, especially among those in the younger generation. We want to continue inspiring people – businesses and consumers alike – to treat food as treasure.”
(Photo by Type A)
Making an impact
The journey may not have been an easy one, but what keeps Preston and his team going are the interactions with their customers.
He recalls one particular encounter with a mother of two, who was grateful for the opportunity to enjoy food from a hotel buffet. A rare treat for her family, if not for treatsure.
“Along with doing our part to reduce food wastage, knowing that what we do makes a difference and impacts individual lives, is what continues to propel us forward,” says Preston.
To extend treatsure’s current impact, Preston is working hard to expand the company beyond Singapore to the Asia Pacific region. “Having more local brands in the food waste industry – like ours – making a mark overseas would show that our solutions are innovative and viable.”
As an entrepreneur in the field of sustainability, what advice does he have for other Singaporeans exploring this particular space?
“It takes a lot of perseverance to be in this field. You must not be afraid to try creative ways to convince, persuade and encourage people to adopt your solution. Most importantly, you need to hone your conviction – the reason you chose to embark on this journey in the first place.”
– Preston Wong, 33, co-founder of treatsure