Hustling to fight food waste

By Hoe I Yune, Jan 30, 2020

Twice Croissants is a twice-baked croissant business that was started in November 2019 by friends Jennifer, Ying and Janice. It saves unsold croissants from bakeries that might otherwise end up in the bin and bakes them again to give them a new lease of life. 

From left to right: Janice, Ying and Jennifer

From left to right: Janice, Ying and Jennifer

Embarking on a side hustle might sound exhausting to some, but the 26-year-old women see it as an opportunity to express their creativity through baking and achieve a social mission in a way that they can’t in their 9-to-6 jobs. They gain personal fulfillment from making an impact about food waste, a cause that they care about. 

It’s this yearning to do social good that is empowering Jennifer and her friends to make a difference. Career success means more than a stable paycheck. It means doing meaningful work.  

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I’m Jennifer and I’m a 26-year-old clinical research coordinator. 

Ever since my parents moved back to Jakarta, I have been living with my cousins. One day late last year, I opened the fridge and noticed so much expired food inside. We had gone grocery shopping but life got in the way and we kept eating out, so all this food that we were meant to have at home went to waste. I threw out bags worth of groceries! 

That was a wake-up call for me to change certain lifestyle habits. I ask for less rice and noodles from stalls if I know I am not that hungry and try to shop only for what I really need. 

Consumer culture fosters unhealthy spending habits because we’re constantly being marketed things to buy. We’re constantly being told that we need more. 

When you see “buy one get one free” promos, psychologically you think you are saving money, but in reality you don’t necessarily need so much. It made me think about the amount of food that potentially goes to waste. 

Another reason why I am so passionate about food is that my mum was a home baker. In primary school, I helped her bake pineapple tarts, and growing up, I baked for myself, friends and family. 

The older I got, the more I wondered how I could do more with my passion. I have always wanted to start my own business because the autonomy appealed to me, yet I did not want it to be just about making money. I thought of inspiring home bakers like The Spatula and the Pen founder Ng Li Tying, who comes up with cakes and desserts based on real-life stories. 

I hope that like her, I can make something meaningful so that beyond being financially stable, I leave a social impact. 

It is amazing that non-profit organisations such as Food from the Heart’s bread run programme collects unsold bread from bakeries to distribute to the needy, but I wanted to explore a social enterprise model, because ultimately my goal is to have my own profitable business (albeit a more sustainable and socially-driven one).

Ideas brewed in my head and I recalled working part-time at a bakery and witnessed first-hand how food gets thrown out if they are not sold by the end of the day, I thought it was such a waste because the food is often still edible, even though they are no longer in premium condition to be put for sale. 

Out of curiosity, I walked into bakeries and asked what they did with the bread or pastries that weren’t sold before the stores shut. They all said the same thing — either employees take them home or they are thrown away. 

Researching online, I discovered how some bakeries reduce food waste by making twice-baked pastries. Not many places in Singapore do this, which is a shame because it could drastically cut back on food waste or be a means to give food to those who really need it. 

According to a survey conducted by The Food Bank Singapore, a charity that gives away surplus food to people in need of food, food waste in Singapore has increased by 30 per cent over the past 10 years and one in 10 Singaporeans experience food insecurity.

Croissants are the most prone to getting thrown out because they have the shortest shelf life of one or two days without being refrigerated or rebaked. So to experiment with, I bought a few to bake after a day. I filled them with almond cream, brushed them with syrup and rebaked them to restore the pastry to their flaky, buttery glory, then gave them to friends and family to taste.

The first person to try one was Ying, whom I have been friends with since our secondary school days. She thought I bought it from a bakery! Together with Janice, the three of us had always toyed with the idea of starting our own business. We would throw out random ideas here and there but this was the first time that I really believed we were on to something.

The positive feedback from friends and family served as the final push, giving me confidence that we were on the right track.

Ying and Janice took the reins with marketing and operations: designing marketing collaterals and managing our social media, while I took charge of coming up with recipes. When we first started the business, we had to buy the croissants right before the store closing time as many of the establishments we approached were not open to working with us, a small business with no name. However, as we started to gain more presence and following, some bakeries have approached us and we are now in the midst of securing official croissant partners. 

We only use plain croissants because those that have already been filled with meat and dairy are more prone to contamination and easily perishable. Even though we run a small business, we are food safety and hygiene certified and apply the best practices to prolong the shelf-life of the croissants and minimise chances of contamination. 

Starting out, our core challenge was to elevate the croissants. Day-old croissants are not as moist as freshly baked ones, so to make up for this, we fill them with almond cream and other yummy flavours. 

For our first pop-up bake sale, we came up with milo croissants, wanting to play with ingredients familiar to local taste buds. We have noticed that quirky flavours catch the interest of Singapore customers. 

We dehydrate lemon skin to use as garnish.

We dehydrate lemon skin to use as garnish.

Twice-baking aside, we try to take other sustainable steps such as using recyclable cardboard, entire fruits, and “ugly foods” that are on sale because they are a little bruised. 

We are completely self-funded and pooled together SGD100 to set up a home based-bakery in my kitchen. Our biggest expense right now is buying leftover croissants from bakeries. Our margins are still very low but we hope this will change in the future when we are able to partner with more bakeries!

Our first partner is The Food Bank — they give us ingredients and we use them in our twice-baked croissants. The proceeds we get from those croissants will then be donated to The Food Bank. It is our way of giving back. 

The Food Bank once gave us pineapple filling and cream cheese, which we made into the Pina Colada, a rum infused coconut frangipane and pineapple cheesecake filling topped with pineapple jam and toasted coconut flakes. Not the most conventional flavour, but it was fun cracking our brains to come up with ideas on what we could do!

As we continue to grow, the goal is to get more bakeries and food distributors to partner with us. It is challenging because we are still relatively unknown and to them, they see one or two leftover croissants as insignificant. However if you accumulate that small amount from multiple bakeries, it will amount to a lot.

So far, we have held five bake sales and managed to sell out the 50 to 60 croissants each time.

Our first few bake sales were purely done on Instagram and customers could pre-order, but this year, we began renting booths at pop-up markets to spread the word on-ground. Since, potential partners have reached out to us, and we are ironing out partnerships. 

Our first two pop-up bake sales were at The Social Space and the Sunday Social Market in Kampong Bugis. It was a little nerve-wracking because we were not entirely sure what responses from strangers would be like. Friends and family might have been encouraging but aren’t they always? What if no one else liked it?

Thankfully the feedback has been positive so far. We introduce our twice-baked concept by explaining how it stems from fighting food waste. One customer gave us the dream compliment by saying that they taste close to Lune's, which possibly bakes the best croissants in the world. We felt so flattered. Another customer told us that he bought a box of three intending to share with his wife and kids but ended up finishing them all by himself!

While Singaporean customers like our novel flavours, the expat crowd has been more vocally supportive of our fight against food waste. One customer initially said she was too full to eat anything but asked what Twice Croissants was about. After we explained our social mission, she bought three! It is heartening to know that people care about the social impact we are trying to make.

It is still early days but launching Twice Croissants has been both a fun project and a fulfilling experience. 

To see it grow from nothing to something gives you the kind of satisfaction that you do not get from a corporate job. We get to express our creativity through baking and channel our energy into coming up with ways to be more sustainable. 

When you have your own business, you celebrate every small milestone. I still remember that happiness when we sold our first box of croissants to a customer who wasn’t a relative or a friend, and to think we rescued a box of croissants that might have otherwise been tossed. 

Besides it is so different working for yourself than it is working for someone else. We are a lean team of three and with that comes freedom to fight for the cause that we care about. However, knowing that we’re working on a cause we believe in and enjoying what we do makes it worthwhile!

Photos provided by Twice Croissants and Hoe I Yune.

To keep up with Twice Croissants, check them out on Instagram at @/twicecroissants

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