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‘$1, $1! Just $1!’: A look at what happens to unsold Chinese New Year goodies


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SINGAPORE – “One dollar, one dollar! Just one dollar!” 

In the days leading up to the eve of Chinese New Year, Temple Street is a sea of slashed prices. Snacks that used to retail for $10 a tub now go for $5. And if you are buying in bulk, $20 can get you five boxes of cookies that originally cost $6 each. 

This is the final hurrah – a last-ditch effort by stall owners to clear their goods before the end of the Chinatown Bazaar, which folded on Chinese New Year’s eve. 


In 2024, the urgency to sell is greater than ever. “Business is about 20 per cent worse than last year,” says Mr Xiao Yong, 33, who mans a snack stall in front of Hotel 1888 Collection. “There is a lot of footfall, but no one wants to buy.” 

According to another employee in her 20s, who wanted to be known only as Ms Tan, the stall has already cut the amount of food it orders from suppliers in the light of waning demand. 

Still, on the second-last day of the fair on Feb 8, stacks of pineapple tarts, cashew cookies, egg rolls and many other biscuits remain. 


For first-time stallholders, this is a disappointing showing. 


“Business is a lot slower than I expected,” says Ms Li, another snack vendor in her 30s, who gave only her surname.

“But I suppose many people are struggling with the rising cost of living this year, so they don’t have much cash to spare for snacks.” 

While Mr Xiao will try to peddle his leftover goods elsewhere – “As long as they haven’t expired, they can be sold!” is his war cry – Ms Li, who sells nuts in large, open sacks, is less optimistic.


“I might have to discard whatever I can’t sell by the end of the bazaar,” she says.

A season of excess 

Some stalls try to sell unsold goods at other markets around Singapore, while others donate their stocks to social enterprises like MoNo Foods. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The National Environment Agency does not track exactly how much food is thrown away in Singapore during the Chinese New Year period. But a 2023 survey by Hong Kong food bank, Feeding Hong Kong, found that 40 per cent of respondents had leftover goodies – mainly a result of unwanted gifts.

Overall, food waste during the festive season could surge by 20 to 30 per cent, estimates Dr Henry Leung, senior specialist of pharmacology and toxicology at Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Applied Science. 

LightBlue Consulting, a social enterprise that helps businesses implement sustainable practices, has also observed that diners and hotel kitchens generate about 10 per cent more waste during the Chinese New Year period. 

“The principal challenge food service operators and retailers may struggle with is estimating the right quantities of food needed, leading to over-buying ingredients and over-preparing produce,” says Ms Mathilde Chatin, 33, managing director at Penta Group, who works on corporate communication projects with clients in the food and agriculture industry. 

“This can be attributed to cultural and social pressure to provide an abundance of food to meet expectations and create a festive atmosphere.”

Suppliers also tend to offer additional discounts for bulk buys to entice vendors to take on more stock and ever taller stacks of snacks. 

Overall, food waste during the festive season could surge by 20 to 30 per cent. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

However, over-preparation could come at a considerable cost to businesses. LightBlue Consulting founder Benjamin Lephilibert estimates that at hotels, for example, the cost of unchecked food waste could eat into as much as 10 per cent of their food revenues. 

As such, some restaurants and bakeries here have made a concerted effort to resist the urge to over-provide. 

Mr Francis Looi, 58, chief executive of Polar Puffs & Cakes, says the company “employs a comprehensive approach to estimate the quantity of seasonal snacks to prepare”. 

This process typically involves analysing past sales, market trends and customer feedback. 

As a result, the majority of the company’s products – especially those baked fresh daily, like its Fortune Orange Butter Cake – are sold out by the end of the Chinese New Year period, with only 3 to 7 per cent of cookies left over. 

At Keong Saik Bakery, production is based on pre-orders, which typically average around 2,000 bottles of festive goodies such as pineapple balls and Milo cornflakes. On average, it is left with only 20 unsold bottles by the eve of Chinese New Year. These are sold at a discount after its reopening on the third day of the new year. 

On the second-last day of the Chinatown Bazaar on Feb 8, stacks of pineapple tarts, cashew cookies, egg rolls and many other biscuits remain.  ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Likewise, a majority of the orders for seasonal treats such as bak kwa and kueh lapis from Si Chuan Dou Hua are placed in advance by corporate clients. The restaurant sells about 80 per cent of these seasonal goodies each year. 

At Red House Seafood, any unsold almond biscuits and pineapple tarts are served to restaurant guests at the end of their meal to “thank them for their support”. 

Diners at Orchard Hotel get to benefit too. Remaining goodies are integrated into the hotel’s buffet line-up or included among amenities to welcome in-house guests. The joy is also shared in the staff cafeteria. 


Second life for leftovers 

Others rope in extra help to clear their stocks.

For instance, Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford team up with Treatsure – an app that connects consumers with surplus food at hotels and grocers – to offer diners buffet leftovers at a discount.

Likewise, some snack vendors donate their goods to MoNo Foods – a social enterprise that redistributes food that is nearing or past its best before date – after the Chinatown Bazaar. 

Donations are sorted and shelved at MoNo’s store on the second level of Yue Hwa building in Chinatown.

Customers can pick a box – they come in different sizes, priced from $10 to $15 for a 25cm by 20cm box, and $40 to $50 for a 45cm by 35cm box – and fill it up with as many snacks and drinks as it can hold. 

“Usually, our first-time customers are sceptical about eating this food because it’s nearing the ‘best before’ date. But we explain that the supplier would not have taken the risk of donating these items to us if they were not still safe to eat. We also don’t carry any perishables,” says Mr Leonard Shee, 36, co-founder of MoNo, which aims to change consumer mindsets on when food should be thrown away.

“And we always remind them to check the look, smell and taste of all the food they get from us before eating.” 


For the 2024 festive period, the shelves are filled with assorted unsold treats, such as plant-based bak kwa from Ayam Brand’s Yumeat and cookies from Raintree Bakery & Coffee.  

“It has to be wrapped well, but we try not to keep it longer than three months,” says MoNo co-founder Lorraine Koh, 40.

The demand for festive goodies does not end with the new year celebrations, as she quips: “There’s always somebody who wants it.”

Unsold food is distributed to residents – including seniors, large low-income families and former offenders – living in rental flats at nearby neighbourhoods like Jalan Kukoh and Jalan Minyak. 

Some grocers also count on food charities to inject a new lease of life into their leftover goods.

At FairPrice supermarkets, festive snacks like yu sheng platters and jars of pineapple tarts remain on sale until around the end of the 15-day festive period on Feb 24.

The supermarket chain did not specify what happens to unsold Chinese New Year treats.

However, some non-perishable goods a month away from their expiry date are included in FairPrice’s monthly donation drives to organisations such as Food from the Heart or The Food Bank Singapore (FBSG). 

A volunteer sorting through donated biscuits at The Food Bank Singapore’s warehouse in Pandan Loop. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

“These sustainable partnerships are long-term and highly impactful, enabling us to provide up to one to two tonnes of food just within the Chinese New Year period,” says Mr Ian Butler, 75, executive director of FBSG. 

FBSG accepts only donations that have not expired and meet strict hygiene standards. Mr Butler says that most donations are within their acceptable consumption period, and nearly all the food is distributed to beneficiaries from more than 370 partners, including Family Service Centres and Active Ageing Centres. 

“This ensures that everyone gets a taste of Chinese New Year goodness,” he adds. 

But, while such organisations play an important role in tackling food insecurity, Dr Leung cautions that relying solely on food charities to repurpose waste is “complex and fraught with challenges”. 

“Businesses often find it cheaper and simpler to dispose of unwanted products than to donate them, citing the high costs associated with food donation,” he says, citing how only a fraction of edible surplus food gets redistributed – just 4 per cent in the United States, for instance – due to transportation delays, improper storage and other barriers.

Then there is the question of how much charities can handle. FBSG’s Mr Butler concedes that while the festive season brings a surge in generous donations, it also presents logistical challenges. 

Around the festive period, FBSG receives a spike in donations from individuals, schools, suppliers and supermarkets. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

“The sheer volume of food requires increased deliveries and pickups, stretching our resources thin. As a non-profit, we have limitations on the amount of manpower and resources that we have access to.

“Hence, to ensure timely delivery and prevent food waste, additional funding is crucial during this critical period,” he says. 

Dr Leung therefore stresses the need for a multifaceted approach to food waste management. 

“Each small effort towards responsible consumption and waste reduction is vital. Setting realistic and attainable targets based on individual or organisational capacities can make a significant difference.” 

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