HomeSocial Impact HeroesReducing Food Waste: Benjamin Yang Of Novitee On How They Are Helping...

Reducing Food Waste: Benjamin Yang Of Novitee On How They Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Do not be afraid to fail.

I reckon one of the most limiting factors of growth for any individual is the fear of failure. It’s one thing to fail knowing that you didn’t try hard. But to face failure when you put your heart and soul into something and to know that even then, it is not good enough. Wow, that realization can crush your soul and shatter your confidence.

It has been estimated that each year, more than 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to more than $160 billion worth of food thrown away each year. At the same time, in many parts of the United States, there is a crisis caused by people having limited access to healthy & affordable food options. The waste of food is not only a waste of money and bad for the environment, but it is also making vulnerable populations even more vulnerable.

Authority Magazine started a new series called “How Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies and Food Companies Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste.” In this interview series, we are talking to leaders and principals of Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies, Food Companies, and any business or nonprofit that is helping to eliminate food waste, about the initiatives they are taking to eliminate or reduce food waste.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Benjamin Yang, Chief Executive Officer of Novitee, a leading F&B food services technology platform.

A digital maverick with vast experience in omni-channel and technology, Benjamin is an internationally sought-after F&B profit strategist who has spearheaded marketing and technology solutions for more than 1000 F&B merchants across Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

As Chief Executive Officer of Novitee, Benjamin spearheads the growth of the company while working closely with its partners to drive the innovation of its digital tech stack and advocating for adoption by the F&B industry for exponential expansion.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Straight Roads Do Not Make Skillful Drivers. I remember stumbling across this quote at the start of the year. And I couldn’t help but smile at my own entrepreneurial journey.

I started my career as a Public Servant. I had my dream job being a Senior Officer at the Planning Division at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB). I had brilliant colleagues and supportive bosses. Most importantly, I found so much meaning in the work I was doing. In hindsight, it was a wonderful gift, and looking back from where I stand today, it was those foundation years I spent at EDB that would ignite my belief in data and shape my leadership style and how I believed organizations should be run.

The truth is that when I was working at EDB, I always believed that it would take a colossal event to make me leave. I was involved in Nation Building and probably the only thing more important than that was family. And this starts my story.

It happened on a Thursday in 2010 during my weekly Basketball sessions with my best friend of many years. It was at one of these sessions did he brought up a promise we made as kids to start our own company together given the entrepreneurial spirit in us. We always had the desire to start something that was beyond our corporate jobs and I knew it was time to do so.

That year, I was already 29 years old and felt that I had fulfilled what I thought to be the criteria of a successful adult — a few years in a stable corporate job with a growing family. So, building on that promise, I trumped up the organization I loved and told them that I was leaving to be an entrepreneur. I wish I could have said we had a prototype or at least a business model stored on some secret encrypted hard drive but the truth was that we had nothing. We only had the promise that we made to each other as two good friends..

So how did we move from nothing to being a leading food technology platform and now processing more than one billion dollars’ worth of food transactions in Singapore for the year 2022?

The answer was one of Singapore’s most iconic dishes, Kaya Toast.

Having no concrete plans meant that we were an open canvas. But it also meant that we were desperate. And that desperation led us to accepting a market research job for a small eatery serving kaya toast.

The brief was simple — to help increase revenue. With my corporate background, I found the most comfort in data and numbers. However, to my horror, the eatery’s cash register had no data. I couldn’t pull data on average spending, pax counts, table turns, etc. In the end, we had to hire an intern to be physically present at the outlet to crunch numbers. Back then, it didn’t make sense that we had to go through so much trouble to obtain certain key metrics to inform our decision-making strategy. But in these inefficiencies, we saw the opportunity. A market gap for an excellent product we were confident we could fill. And this was how Kaya Toast led to the birth of Novitee’s first product; our Point-of-Sales.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?

When I say that my daughter is my inspiration, this isn’t the proud daddy in me speaking. In fact, it was when I was reprimanding her that I had a eureka moment.

By now, you would probably know that we are in the restaurant technology space and one of our key products is our Point-of-Sales. The truth is that being in this space is brutal: there’s so much venture capital money going into payments. The path of least resistance to many of our competitors was intuitive — integrate forward into payments. From there on, it became a battle of who could offer better rates in the zero-sum game towards achieving a sizable market share. To say that we were not attracted to do the same would be a lie. In fact, we had already started to do some R&D when something happened and that altered the course of our direction.

The incident that changed our trajectory was when my young daughter started coughing really bad one night. Any parent with young kids would be able to attest that the moment your child starts coughing, you would write off any chance of sleep for the night.

My tipping point came when I realized the reason she fell ill. My daughter is very sensitive to cold or sweet foods and earlier that day in school, she allowed herself some ice cream as she wanted to enjoy them together with her friends who were all having some. That was the perfect storm that caused her cough. Her desire to have ice cream just like her friends (and the negative consequences from it) dawned on me whether I too was following the crowd blindly. Where everyone was integrating towards payments, was there another position I could take? One that would differentiate us from the competition. That was when we decided on a contrarian strategy; while people were moving to front-end payments, let us instead move to back-end procurement.

There’s this saying I read during physics class during my schooling days. “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” In hindsight, this strategic move towards procurement was what changed the game for us. Where everyone was fighting a ruthless game of offering lower payment percentages for payments, we were slowly building our procurement solution that would be the foundation of automating and doing the heavy lifting for restaurants. It was a long and arduous journey, but we realized very early on that we had a good product-market fit and persisted through. And through multiple development iterations, this led to the birth of KoomiMarket, a business-to-business marketplace that connects food suppliers to restaurants. All thanks to my daughter and ice cream.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I still remember this incident vividly. I was in a shopping mall looking to grab a quick bite after a business meeting and settled on one of the restaurants. As I walked past its point-of-sales system at the cashier, I looked at the ordering interface. Everything was an exact replica of what Novitee is offering. From the colours to the placements of the buttons, I immediately thought that a competitor had cloned our system. I was fuming.

In the back of my head, I was running through the different scenarios. Should I take a legal route, or should I confront the system providers? But before this, I called my office to tell them what had happened as I wanted my management team to be aware of the situation and to swiftly right this wrong.

Thankfully, I had many cool heads around me. When I told my team that I came across a system that not only looked like ours but also worked like ours, my General Manager asked me for the name of the restaurant. I even praised her for asking the right questions as I reckoned that she wanted to call up the restaurant owners. When I told her the name of the restaurant, she laughed and told me, “Ben, they are our customers. The system you are seeing is a Novitee system”.

To say I wanted to crawl into a hole was an understatement. The answer was right in front of me. Instead of seeing the obvious, I spiralled into this emotional rollercoaster that not only made me angrier but also hungrier.

In the end, I collected my emotions, laughed at myself over and walked up to the cashier to order my Nasi Lemak (Coconut Rice). Even to this day, whenever I see this dish, it acts as a reminder to myself to never let my emotions escalate, and as best as I can, to always remain calm and search for the most logical answer.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

There are many definitions of leadership. Many revolve around the ability to lead with vision and to develop a team that can achieve executional excellence. While I don’t discount the importance of these qualities, and in many ways, I do think I exhibit some of these behaviours. I would like to share a more pragmatic approach to leadership — to me, leadership is about showing up. There’s this quote from Lord of the Rings that I really love:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

To me, this is what leadership is about. It’s about showing up when it matters.

Anyone can be a competent leader when things are all dandy. But when things are down and in the trenches, are you still able to inspire confidence? Are you still able to lead with conviction and rally the team to continue pressing on? I am a firm believer that people judge you by your actions and not what you say. There’s this saying that goes “fake it till you make it”. Instead of that, I think what would be more apt is instead to “face it till you make it”. Show up, work hard, bounce back from adversity, rinse and repeat. When you engage in such behaviours, your team will be consistently observing you. That’s how you win their hearts and before you know it, they will also model these qualities. Yes, alignment and vision are important; but, I am always of the view that if you can get the right people, other things are easily achieved.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I am a big fan of Adam Grant. He is an Organizational Psychologist at Wharton and very much a thought leader in psychology. He once shared that “The ultimate test of success is not whether you are proud of what you have achieved. It’s whether you are proud of who you have become”. This resonated very much with me as it points out how immaterial extrinsic accomplishments are.

Instead, focusing on your learning, values, character, and well-being should be your priority. These things are far more enduring and stress the importance of focusing on the process and adopting a growth mindset in this journey we call “life”. Luck sometimes plays a role in success, and the truth is that luck isn’t something we can necessarily control. However, character development and your own learnings — these are things that are within your control and things that you can work on. Hence it makes sense to instead focus on these things.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. What exactly are we talking about when we refer to food waste?

Food “waste” refers to food that is fit for consumption but consciously discarded at the retail or consumption phases.

According to Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA), food waste makes up an estimated 12% of total waste produced in Singapore. Food wastes are generally grouped into 2 types — avoidable and unavoidable. Avoidable food waste is food items that can be consumed if they are managed better, such as leftovers from a meal, or stale or expired food. Conversely, unavoidable food is food portions that are not for consumption, such as bones, seeds and eggshells.

Food waste can be reduced and managed in 4 ways, preventing and minimizing food waste at source, redistributing leftover or excess food, recycling food waste, and recovering energy. Importantly, the use of technologies can help tackle the issue from the supply chain and essentially reduce food waste at the onset.

Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?

There are various causes of food waste and it occurs at every point within the food cycle — production, distribution, retail and consumption.

For retail establishments, the source of food waste most often begins at the Planning and Purchasing stage where restaurants procure their inventory to meet the demands of customers. Some of the reasons for food waste at this stage include over-sourcing, lack of awareness of consumer demand or unsuccessful employee training.

In my opinion, a commonly overlooked aspect is to prevent and reduce food waste at source. This is why Novitee is focusing its resources to develop digital solutions that will enable restaurants to streamline their internal operations, adopt better planning and minimize their food waste.

As an example, a lot of wastage stems from the traditional way of handling raw material purchases, such as buying a fixed quantity regularly from suppliers. Therein lies the probability of overstocking and having to discard perishables — which can be minimized with careful calibration and planning. How we are solving this problem is to have F&B establishments use Novitee’s system to keep track of both avoidable and unavoidable food waste. With daily updates on inventory stock levels and reports analysis, restaurants can make informed decisions and pre-plan the procurement cycle and quantity without blindly ordering based on gut feel or rough estimates.

This allows restaurants to understand the volume that goes to waste and tackle the issue at hand, which ultimately has a desirable impact on expanding revenue given better management on food costs.

What are a few of the obstacles that companies and organizations face when it comes to distributing extra or excess food? What can be done to overcome those barriers?

Often, due to the perishable nature of food, long food supply chains and lack of channels to repurpose food waste, excess food is simply disposed of as waste.

There are various ways to overcome the barriers along the food supply chain but a key accelerator at all stages would be the application of technology.

Having a robust Point-of-Sales and integrated Inventory and Procurement management system helps to minimize the occurrence of excess food and food wastage. What this means for F&B establishments is that they are able to monitor how well their menu items are faring and tweak them according to consumer patterns, oversee inventory levels and manage procurement activities. This is precisely what we are doing at our company, where with an estimated $1 billion GMV transacted through Novitee’s system in 2022, we are able to aggregate demand and quite accurately predict trends to better inform Singapore’s food establishments.

Having the ability to forecast demand reduces the holding inventory for kitchens and provides statistics for restaurants to make strategic planning.

Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?

Since 2015, Novitee has been helping food establishments plan more effectively by providing a forecast of consumer demand through our restaurant solutions.

We are able to help food establishments to reduce food waste through demand forecasting, allowing businesses to remove unpopular items from their menu and prevent over-sourcing.

To help food establishments source more effectively, Novitee has also just launched KoomiMarket, where food establishments can easily source directly from quality suppliers, reducing over-sourcing as it is a one-stop, multi-vendor platform for procurement of raw ingredients or finished products. With KoomiMarket, food establishments will be able to diversify their sourcing options and will have access to transparent pricing and flexible MOQ which maintains business economics.

Launched as a free-to-use platform, KoomiMarket wishes to help food establishments empower their staff to decrease food wastage by leveraging big data and an easy-to-use interface for sourcing operations. Interested buyers and sellers can transact directly on the portal, and order purchase information can simply be tracked on the KoomiMarket dashboard.

Through Big Data and AI, Novitee will help restaurants monitor food trends and predict accurate demand. This ultimately leads to the minimization of holding inventory and unused stock, reducing food wastage at all retail food establishments at the source.

Coupled with the use of Novitee’s Point-of-Sales, analysis of food consumption trends can be done. Such data include best-selling items, peak hours and days, table turnover rate etc — which can all assist the management and kitchen staff in understanding customers’ preferences and preparing according to customer traffic. Furthermore, Novitee’s Inventory and Procurement solution help restaurants keep track of their inventory levels, expiry dates, and when to conduct purchases. By tallying the ideal inventory and actual inventory upon stock take, food establishments can also work towards better management of food consistency and costs.

Ultimately, the data generated provides restaurants with a holistic view of how desirable their operations are. Through analysis, food establishments can continually improve menu options and portion sizing, and maintain healthy stock levels, which in turn has positive impacts in terms of managing purchasing expenditure and reducing food waste.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?

There are 3 simple things that the community can play its part in minimizing food waste.

  1. Prepare and order only food portions that you can finish.

When cooking up meals at home, only portion out what you are able to finish. If there are leftovers, it would be ideal to turn them into new dishes within the next few days before they go bad. Similarly, when eating out, request for smaller portions if you are unable to finish them or choose to order only what you can finish.

2. Purchase only required groceries.

Do up a grocery checklist before heading to the grocery store to prevent overspending or overbuying what is not required at home. Buying additional items due to attractive discounts or promotions could potentially lead to food waste should they go stale.

3. Distribute excess food to organizations.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” — before you trash out excess food that you will not be consuming, you can do your part in donating them to the needy via organizations such as Food Bank Singapore, Food from the Heart, Willing Hearts, etc.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Know your unit economics.

Unlike many of our peers, Novitee didn’t look towards fundraising during our initial years. This meant that when we felt we were finally ready, I was really very new to the game. I recall my very first meeting with a VC firm. One of the first questions they asked was about Unit Economics. To those who might be unaware of this term, Unit economics is a method applied to analyze a company’s cost to revenue ratio in relation to its basic unit to understand the source of its revenue. I recall being so flustered during the meeting as I was ill-prepared to answer these questions. However, after I left the meeting, I spent an insane amount of time learning about unit economics. I realized the importance of these metrics, and how I can use these metrics to run my company more effectively.

2. Do not be afraid to fail.

I reckon one of the most limiting factors of growth for any individual is the fear of failure. It’s one thing to fail knowing that you didn’t try hard. But to face failure when you put your heart and soul into something and to know that even then, it is not good enough. Wow, that realization can crush your soul and shatter your confidence.

With the benefit of hindsight, I realized that my initial years as an entrepreneur could be characterized by a need to avoid failure. I had a point to prove and failure wasn’t even something that I considered. To have adopted such a mindset is really naïve. When I spoke to fellow entrepreneurs, I started realizing that failure was the norm. Even for seasoned entrepreneurs who had raised millions and millions of dollars. What separates successful entrepreneurs from unsuccessful ones is how they view failure.

You see, depending on your mindset, failure can either be temporal or permanent. If I fail 9 times, but pick myself up 9 times, those 9 failures become important lessons that will be etched in your mind. However, if you see failure as an end point. Even one failure will mean that you have reached the end of the road. Hence, do not be afraid to fail. Just make sure that you fail forward and that you always pick yourself up.

3. Speed is more important than perfection.

I have experienced this myself way too often. I recall that when we first launched our own procurement system, we spent 2 months on ideation, 3 months on research, 4 months on development, and 2 months on testing. By the time we went to market, close to one year had passed. At that time, we thought that we did the right thing. Let’s get it right the first time. Let’s make sure everything is perfect. The outcome? When we launched our trial with a customer, there were still many gaps. And we ended up having to redevelop and build in many new processes.

What I learnt from this experience was this: don’t aim for perfection. Develop a minimum viable product (MVP), push the product to market and keep doing quick iterations to ensure improvements and product-market fit. In our case, we were lucky as we were operating in a pretty nascent market. Imagine if our competitors caught wind of what we were doing and were able to develop faster than us. We might have already lost our competitive edge.

4. Embrace uncertainty.

One question I really disliked as a new entrepreneur was this, “are you certain?” or “are you sure?” I guess looking back, I found it hard to admit vulnerability. Even when I wasn’t certain, I would have this façade where I would pretend to be 101% sure. I found it so admirable when I saw other entrepreneurs being so visionary and having a level of conviction in their strategy.

It was only when Novitee started having some level of success where I was able to start mingling with all these other successful entrepreneurs. And this was what I found out. Most of us were rarely certain of our strategy. While we might portray this outlook of confidence, deep inside, many of us were not sure. Does this mean we were lucky? No. I think what a good entrepreneur has is trust in his inner resources. Trust that in the event where something doesn’t work, we are able to adapt and find the strength within ourselves to make sure that we will eventually find the path to success.

These days, I rarely tell anyone that I am certain. Instead, I will just say this “I don’t know for sure. But if we don’t try, we will never know”. I guess once you are comfortable with discomfort, and able to live with uncertainty, this vulnerability actually becomes a tacit capability that you can always tap on.

5. Exercise.

Grind. This word has been etched in my mind since Day 1 of choosing to be an entrepreneur. I recall this quote we had in the office “Sleep is for the Weak”. Somehow, we celebrated relentless effort. I am not saying this is bad. In fact, I still maintain the position that being an entrepreneur requires you to put in an insane amount of work. But what I didn’t realize early on is that entrepreneurship isn’t a 100m race. It is a marathon. The only difference is that with a marathon there is an end in sight. The same cannot be said for entrepreneurship. Burnt out is real.

There were so many occasions where I was so tired and disheartened. What was worse, my health was suffering — I put on an insane amount of weight, close to 20 kg. I felt sluggish, constantly tired and not very mentally alert. What changed for me was seeing a friend, who was also an entrepreneur pass away. The scary thing was, he was around my age, and we shared a similar lifestyle and weight. That stopped me in my tracks immediately.

I completely changed my lifestyle and started exercising. The best thing was that I could feel the transformation in myself. I felt healthier, more alert and my emotions became more stable. In effect, I felt happy, and I felt really good about myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still work really hard. The only difference is that I now set aside 30 mins each day to go for a run. And I can tell you that those 30 minutes make a huge difference to my day. So those who are still on the fence on exercising, I strongly encourage you to start exercising now.

Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address food waste? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.

It is innovative to see Treatsure, a startup that aims to tackle the issue of food waste in Singapore by bringing together merchants and consumers, come up with solutions that would benefit both the restaurants and delight consumers. Consumers like you and I can buy leftover food from buffet lines of various participating F&B establishments and high-end hotels, at affordable prices. This is indeed ingenious with the development of an app in 2017, making it easy for consumers to locate the merchants and obtain information on the takeaway such as the specified timings, on a centralized platform.

Another startup championing managing food waste would be TRIA. Its latest solution, Bio24, is rather interesting as food waste and its packaging are turned into compost in 24 hours. TRIA focuses not just on replacing single-use plastics but manages both the use of plastic foodware and food waste concurrently. This is made possible as segregation is not required for the Bio24 foodware and food waste, as compared to traditional ways of having to separate food waste from general waste (single-use plastic). The end result? Less harmful gases are released from incinerating the plastics given TRIA’s Bio24 foodware and food waste is reduced to fertilizer within 24 hours.

In the view of Singapore Food Agency’s food waste hierarchy, both companies are tackling food waste at different points — with Treatsure’s focus on redistribution of unsold or excess food, and TRIA aligning recycling and treating of food waste in a more efficient and eco-friendly manner.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

All organizations should practice gratitude with their employees. I am a really big fan of Positive Psychology. And among all the research done in this field of study, the one that I feel gives the greater return on effort is to practice gratitude in the workplace.

The broad idea of gratitude is this. We work in an environment characterized by problem solving. As such, the brain is trained to look out for problems. However, the moment we place priority on gratitude, employees will start to look for the good in different situations. The end outcome is an increase in workplace happiness which has a knock-on impact on tangible outcomes like reduced absenteeism and increased levels of employee engagement. The question now is this: how do we start a movement? There’s this very simple exercise done in psychology. It’s called the 3-gratitudes. All it takes is this — take time to think of 3 things that you are grateful for that you have experienced today or the day before. Yes, that’s all it takes. I can imagine corporations doing this once every week right after their weekly meetings. What we would experience is a movement of gratitude that would infuse positivity all around us. And the best thing? It doesn’t cost a cent to do this.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Singapore’s leader — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Being a Singaporean, experiencing the development of Singapore has been nothing short of amazing. To be able to learn from his wisdom on how a small country like ours has been able to emerge as an economic powerhouse would be a dream come true for me. If you are able to make this happen, you would have my gratitude (please refer to the previous question — wink emoji).

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn:

For developments on Novitee, you can head on to our website:

For development on KoomiMarket, you can head on to:

This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.

Reducing Food Waste: Benjamin Yang Of Novitee On How They Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.