There’s a place for odd-shaped potatoes, curved cucumbers and multi-pronged turnips — and to Graze Market, it is certainly not the waste basket.
Did you know that in Malaysia, more than 15,000 tonnes of food go to waste on a daily basis? This is enough to feed 12 million Malaysians, 3 times a day!
This food waste problem is precisely what Graze Market hopes to tackle as a social enterprise. As an independently-run food surplus market, the organisation seeks to bridge the gap between food waste and hunger by offering fresh produce (that would otherwise be discarded) to the public at an affordable price. They run multiple programmes that are financially and environmentally sustainable to achieve this goal.
Giving Fresh Produce A Second Chance
Spearheaded by founder, Clara Wan, Graze Market sprung into existence in 2019 when she first witnessed how large amounts of good food are thrown away simply because they do not meet the aesthetic standards of the retail space.
Due to stringent selection processes, fresh produce with slight blemishes, bruises and discolouration are often rejected upfront by supermarkets. Fruits and vegetables that are misshapen, too long or too short are also likely to end up going to waste even if they are good for consumption.
Clara’s husband who runs a vegetable distribution company often brought home baskets of surplus produce. Appalled upon seeing the gravity of this issue with her own eyes, Clara sought to approach the problem through a sustainable business perspective.
This was how Graze Market came to be. Working closely with the other co-founder Shirley Chan, the duo kickstarted the business with a vision to reduce food wastage and to make affordable and nutritious food accessible to all. Now an ever-expanding team, Graze Market hopes to grow its presence and therewith, expand its impact to reach more parts of society.
“Food should not be put to waste just because of minor imperfections. This is why we created Graze Market — to reach out to people who don’t mind purchasing this range of veggies, and to sell these products to them at a discounted price.” – Clara Wan
A Two-Pronged Solution For A Double-Edged Problem
Lots of food goes to waste each day, yet many undeserved Malaysians still face hunger. Graze Market hopes to address this issue by becoming an active intermediary — a bridge that connects farmers and distributors to customers who are also supportive of the cause. Any leftovers are then distributed to low-income families who are in need of food aid.
Since the onslaught of COVID-19, Graze Market has escalated their efforts to help underprivileged communities. Having shifted their focus from in-store purchases to home deliveries, the enterprise experienced an increase in sales especially during lockdown measures.
Some of their ongoing initiatives include Graze Market’s Sponsor-A-Family Program, whereby contributors can help supply a week’s worth of goods to B40 families. The enterprise also undertakes job empowerment initiatives, whereby B40 women are hired as cooks so that they can obtain an extra income. Made possible by crowdfunding campaigns, the food cooked by these women are then distributed for free to underprivileged communities.
“When the pandemic came, we wanted to play a bigger role in helping families in need.” – Clara Wan
Not only do these programs bring happiness to its beneficiaries, but they also reignite a growing sense of purpose during a time of bleak uncertainty. The women entrepreneurs are also able to regain confidence from being able to contribute back to their community.
Graze Market currently conducts their food aid programs with the help of Eastspring Investments, Yayasan Generasi Gemilang, Yayasan DayaDiri, and several other parties. Keen to embark on more partnerships in the future, they look forward to increasing their collaborative endeavors with organisations who are equally passionate in advancing the cause.
Reshaping Mindsets and Behaviours
Graze Market’s interactions with partners, clients and customers are not just limited to just buying and selling — they also make an active effort to educate society regarding their vision and mission.
Inevitably, some customers who are unaware of their business model might question the quality of the produce given to them. It is definitely no surprise that to most people, odd-shaped vegetables and fruits are perceived as inedible or undesirable. ‘Inorganic’ produce also tend to be subjected to greater scrutiny than those labeled organic.
In our interview with Clara, she explains that this mindset may have been subconsciously ingrained within us since young, especially when we go shopping with our family. After all, why not choose the best goods available to us with the price we’re paying?
“There’s this mindset that.. we’re all paying the same price, for the same product; so why not choose the best right? Without awareness about food wastage, a person is unlikely to be stopped from making this decision.” – Clara Wan
Getting people to understand Graze Market’s larger purpose of reducing food waste and saving the Earth’s precious resources is no easy task. It involves debunking the perception that minor imperfections automatically render food inedible. It also requires cultivating awareness on how these defects can be easily dealt with (for example, revitalizing vegetables by soaking them in water or simply removing unwanted parts).
Other than the need for a mindset shift, Clara points out that structural issues may also be a factor to Malaysia’s long journey ahead in tackling food waste.
Unlike France, a leading country in the fight for this particular cause, Malaysia has no laws prohibiting supermarkets from throwing out edible food. The ‘Good Samaritan Law’ is also not practiced here in our country, the absence of which puts food donors at risk of being held liable for possible ill effects associated with surplus food. Unprotected and vulnerable to lawsuits, organisations become reluctant to partake in food donations.
Clara elaborates further on this issue by pointing out that logistical barriers can also be a large hindrance. Distance and costs, coupled with the quick perishability of fresh produce, make it difficult for distributors to engage in food waste reduction efforts — even if they are principally supportive of the cause.
“Because companies are all so spread out, it takes a lot of effort to collect surplus food. Furthermore, relatively newer social enterprises may also need extra funding from charitable organisations to cover heavy delivery costs.” – Clara Wan
In this regard, it is crucial for distributors to strike a balance between environmental and financial sustainability, without compromising legal requirements for food safety.
A Collective Social Responsibility
Clara believes that each segment of society has a role to play in mitigating the problem of food waste in Malaysia.
First and foremost, food distribution and environment-focused organisations should bind together in strategizing cohesive action plans. Engagement between NGOs and social enterprises will not only help to streamline processes, but also to prevent redundancy or overlap in distribution efforts.
Restaurants and vendors should also strive to improve communications with these parties so that food surplus can be channeled to communities that need it. To achieve this, technology needs to be utilized as a connection platform. In Singapore for example, an app called treatsure connects businesses & hotels with everyday consumers. Therewith, excess food resources can be reallocated to people who would treasure them. Corporates can also lend a helping hand by supporting and promoting social enterprises that are fighting for the cause.
To obtain these objectives however, society must first be environmentally conscious. This is where education comes into play.
Parents are pivotal in raising environmental awareness in the household. By becoming good role models and advocates themselves, children will start to emulate their positive environmental habits. The media can also help cultivate better mindsets by broadcasting community-oriented messages, serving as reminders to society to make environmentally conscious decisions.
“If, let’s say, the parents are zero waste practitioners—the kids are likely to follow suit. This definitely takes a lot of effort, but it’s good to keep in mind that change begins with each individual.” – Clara Wan
To further raise awareness among youths, Graze Market is currently in the works of producing educational kits for children. Their project of creating digestible infographics is tentatively set to be piloted by the end of this year.
All in all however, Clara emphasises that progress begins with individuals. Every single one of us can become agents of change if we put our minds to it.
“It starts with us being aware that every individual has the capacity to create change. Whether it’s finishing the food we eat, shopping consciously, or becoming part of environmental initiatives, every little step makes a tremendous difference.” – Clara Wan
So, the next time you see a small tomato, an odd carrot, or a misshapen capsicum – consider taking on Graze Market’s calling. Make the decision to make a difference.