Four years ago, the directors of Samsui Supplies and Services, Ang Kian Peng and Then Khek Koon, visited a voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) that had special needs beneficiaries. When mealtime came, they were taken aback by the standard of nutrition in the food provided.
“It was mostly fried food and few nutritious options,” says Ang. “We saw a need for healthy food for the beneficiaries, and we felt that we could leverage on our core competency in food and beverage to meet this need.”
The pair decided to start a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme under Samsui Supplies, a subsidiary of the Soup Restaurant Group, supplying healthy, tasty meals on a regular basis to VWOs.
Ang, who is also the group’s business development head, says, “Many people were sceptical of our efforts at first, thinking that we won’t be able to sustain the food delivery and that it would be a one-off project. But we managed to do so by focusing on our core competencies and network, and engaged the community to participate as well.”
Last November, Samsui Supplies received the President’s Award for Volunteerism and Philanthropy under the Corporate – Small and Medium Enterprise category for its innovative and sustainable food delivery services to nursing homes and non-profit organisations.
From 100 meals a day, Samsui Supplies now provides 500,000 meals annually at heavily subsidised rates for VWOs. Designed by Soup Restaurant chefs and approved by dieticians and nutritionists before being rolled out, these meals usually include meat and vegetable dishes such as the Soup Restaurant’s popular ginger chicken and laksa made with ground ikan bilis (anchovies), instead of dried shrimp to increase calcium intake. The food is prepared daily at its central kitchen in Kampong Ampat or during downtime at the restaurant’s outlets, then blast chilled and vacuum-packed for optimal freshness. It is then delivered to the beneficiary homes where it is heated and served.
Lee Chee Hua, a chef at Samsui Supplies who has been cooking these meals since the project started, says, “When I participated in the programme, I realised that ageing is a path that most people have to go through. Seeing the joy on the faces of the people we serve brings much satisfaction to me.”
Ang explains that Samsui Supplies is able to get fresh ingredients at lower prices as it purchases in bulk for the Soup Restaurant Group and source direct from farms instead of middlemen wherever possible. He says, “With this initiative, we are able to help VWOs solve their food supply problem so that they can concentrate on providing quality care for their beneficiaries.”
With an increasing number of meal requests, Samsui Supplies is setting up a second central kitchen at Changi Prison that will focus on meeting the demands of this CSR project. When it opens this month, the company will hire 30 inmates to prepare 1.5 million meals a year.
Ang says, “The inmates can contribute back to society while we train them in an employable skill to integrate into a real-life work environment. In this way, we hope to offer these inmates a lifeline when they re-enter society and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.”
Samsui Supplies also hires 30 special needs beneficiaries from various non-profit organisations to pack and prepare orders for its social initiative The Social Pantry, an online store supplying snacks and drinks to offices. “This engages them in meaningful work that provides an income while providing a reliable and necessary service to offices,” says Ang.
To ensure the sustainability of the food delivery programme, Samsui Supplies ropes in supply chain partners and business associates to help defray costs and organise CSR activities. Ang is also working with Samsui Supplies’ chief culinary officer Heman Tan to deliver the meals ready to eat in new bone chinaware to the nursing homes. While this means higher costs in terms of logistics, chef Heman says that this form of ceramic ware keeps food warmer over a longer period and is more hygienic as it is easier to clean. “I want to give the elderly a decent square meal presented in proper plates and bowls. I wouldn’t give my own parents food served in plastic or melamine containers, how can I do that to these old folks?”
In the long run, Ang wants to keep improving the project’s infrastructure as well as rally more companies so that they can offer more quality meals to beneficiaries. He says, “We need more corporate partners who share the same values as us to come on board to help with the cost and logistics, and volunteers to run the activities.”
“Doing good can come in many ways and go hand-in-hand with business operations. There are challenges but we just need some creativity, resourcefulness and the willingness to implement. Everyone can play a part in giving as long as they do it with a heart.”
Photography: Max Chan/101 Teamwork; Art Direction: Jana Tan; Location: Soup Restaurant at Raffles Hotel Arcade