How Hong Kong’s young entrepreneurs are solving the city’s massive food waste problem
- A raft of start-ups are launching innovative solutions to stop unwanted food going to landfill
- The younger generation is keen to tackle society’s issues, and the money is there to fund them, says head of HKUST’s Entrepreneurship Centre
Anushka Purohit has never forgotten her shock the first time she saw staff at a Starbucks throwing away unsold products at the end of the night.
“I can’t wait until I’m older and can do something about this,” she remembers thinking.
Now aged 22, she’s holding herself to those words.
The company is only a year into full-scale production but has already created significant buzz. Partnering with large companies like Maxim’s Caterers and Jardine Restaurant Group, their products are available in over 150 stores across the city.
Their only capital cost is a cold storage facility they rent out. This low-asset model keeps costs down while maximising social impact, according to Purohit.
In the last four months alone they’ve made more than HK$314,000 (US$40,000) in sales – on top of the estimated HK$4 million they’ve raised through competition winnings and grants since 2020 – all of which gets reinvested back into the business, Purohit said.
Interest is rapidly growing. In 2021, Whole Foods, the high-end grocer owned by Amazon, listed upcycled food products as one of its top 10 anticipated trends, based on input from the company’s global buyers and culinary experts.
Furthermore, the global market for food waste products is expected to grow by 57 per cent to US$83.26 billion by 2032, up from the current US$52.91 billion, according to data released by Future Market Insights and compiled by ReFED, an American non-profit organisation focused on food loss and waste reduction.
Chomp is an app that allows people to buy boxes of unsold food from restaurants at a discount. One year in, the company has 88 participating restaurants and about 4,000 registered users.
Among the younger generation, “there’s a changing mindset and scope of what you can do to help in society,” he said.
For Chomp, though, it was challenging to get investors involved in the platform initially. Instead, Martinesi and Wettling had to rely on family, friends, and grants they received from the government-funded Cyberport.
Having sustainability goals should be seen as an economic opportunity rather than a burden for start-ups and their investors, according to Poman Lo, vice-chairman at Century City International Holdings and executive director of Regal Hotels International.
At the Post’s recent Asia Sustainability Conference she revealed that companies with clear environmental targets have outperformed the rest of her portfolio in terms of returns on investment and readiness to attract new investors.
“These companies are successful because of the impact they deliver, rather than in spite of it,” she added.
For Purohit, Breer’s success is ultimately measured in environmental impact rather than financial gain. She estimates that since Breer began full-scale production a year ago, they have saved over 120,000 litres of water and kept more than 10,000kg of bread from reaching landfill sites.
However, when she travels back in her mind to the Starbucks where it all started, she wonders why she felt she had to wait until she was older to start making a difference.
“If I had started something like Breer earlier on, maybe the impact could have been even larger,” she said.