Salting Down Costs, Stepping up Joy!

Puja Chandra

Taking a cue from the humble salt that can enhance the taste of food and heal; Saltsteps hopes to bring a healing change in the lives of low-income families in Singapore and enhance their quality of life.

The brainchild of enterprising daughter and father duo – Desiree Yang and Ronald Yeo, Saltsteps works at stretching the dollar for these families by making every day essentials affordable, while retaining the buyer’s sense of pride.

“Our unique selling point is to go beyond affordability.  People are at the heart of what we do, we want to provide them with a supportive arm.”

– Desiree Yang

Self-sustaining social supermarkets are gaining favour across the globe. In December, 2014, London got its 1st social supermarket, ‘The Community Shop’, shortly after Saltsteps began crowd-funding to raise seed capital for the very 1st social supermarket in Singapore.

Desiree stumbled upon the idea while volunteering at Beyond Social Service. She was deeply moved when she learnt of a woman, who was unable to afford formula milk and mixed condensed milk with water to feed her child. This prompted Desiree to find a sustainable solution to help people break out of poverty.

Having worked closely with VWOs (Voluntary Welfare Organizations), Desiree realized that the monthly grocery bill consumes a huge chunk of the disposable household income and was likely to be squeezed and rationed by the family.

By saving on household staples such as cooking oil, rice, detergent powder and diapers, it could free up much needed money to be spent on other family expenses.

Desiree’s research led her to set up Saltsteps which works on the principle of selling goods to needy families at heavily discounted prices (about 30-70% off the shelf price).

These products are deemed unfit for sale by standard stores due to mislabelling, rebranding or limited shelf life but are largely safe for consumption. Saltsteps sources such goods from suppliers, either free of cost or at discounted prices and channelizes them to earmarked families with a combined monthly income of less than S$1,500. 

Saltsteps helps low income families in Singapore buy affordable necessities

Though Saltsteps accepts telephonic and online orders, its biggest impact has been through Pop-up- Stores held in conjunction with VWOs in select neighbourhoods.  The customers are able to see the product and appreciate the price difference. Satisfied customers come back to subsequent pop up stores for repeat orders. 

 SaltSteps Pop Up Store

The joy on the faces of the customers as they are able to save money for other needs and an occasional treat, is the greatest reward for Desiree and her team!

Saltsteps also constantly receives requests from families asking for fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, chocolates and toiletries such as toothpaste- items which they are unable to provide at this point due to certain constraints.

“When people place repeat orders or make special requests for adding to our product line, it is a validation of what we do.”

For Saltsteps, the climb is tough as they face challenges on many fronts.  The initial capital is drying out, selling margins are thin and not many suppliers are forthcoming. Additionally, there are warehousing and other logistical constraints that inhibit expansion plans.

However, Saltsteps is striving to maximize its reach across the island and is resolutely working towards self-sustenance.

Here’s how you can support Saltsteps in its efforts:

  • Spread the good word - Use social media platforms like FacebookTwitter to connect with Saltsteps and share information with friends and family.
  • Give a shout-out - If you know of any family in Singapore who could benefit from Saltsteps, help them connect.
  • Boost the lifeline- Suppliers are the lifeline of social supermarkets. If you know of any supplier who would be willing to place their trust and products with Saltsteps, help them connect.
  • Volunteer – at pop-up stores and events.

Social Supermarkets such as Saltsteps have the potential to empower customers with limited purchasing power and protect them from social exclusion.

“They are able to make a choice of what items they wish to purchase, they're able to feel independent and with time, ideally, realize that they have it within themselves to break out of poverty. They’re treated like customers, unlike when they get handouts.” 

[Photo Credit: Desiree Yang, Co-founder of Saltsteps]


 If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.


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