Hong Kong companies put healthy snacks within reach

From paleo cakes to vegan doughnuts, coconut jerky to customisable snack box subscriptions, there’s a cornucopia of choices for the city’s health-conscious crowd, although too much snacking is potentially not good for you

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 May, 2016, 6:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 May, 2016, 6:02am

If reaching for that between-meals nibble often leaves you wracked with guilt, munching on the increasing array of better-for-you snacking alternatives in Hong Kong may make you feel somewhat virtuous. At least that’s the hope of local companies which have sprouted in this city recently, touting snacks that are unprocessed, natural and nutritious.

6 Hong Kong healthy snack makers that deliver

From paleo cakes to vegan doughnuts, superfood energy balls to high-protein ice cream, coconut jerky to customisable snack box subscriptions, there’s myriad options for the health-conscious crowd.

Market research firm Euromonitor reports that sales of junk food have grown slower than forecasted in Hong Kong – a current retail value growth of 4 per cent in 2015 – due to increasing health consciousness.

“I think there’s been a surge in healthy snacking options as Asian consumers have begun to rebel from the scary statistics of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. People are wanting a more balanced lifestyle in exercise, work, food and travel,” says Jerry McLean, CEO and co-founder of ChewsWize, a snack subscription service that offers a package of five portion controlled, nature-based snacks delivered weekly to customers’ homes.

“So it’s only natural that they push back on the traditional sugar-laden processed rubbish and ask for something that won’t give them cancer, or add unnecessary calories due to excessive amounts of sugar. There’s a market for this in Hong Kong and across Asia.”

Joyce Chung started her snack box subscription service Guilt Free Food in March this year out of her own frustration looking for a “clean” and nutritious snack while on a diet last year.

“Hong Kong is one of the best foodie cities in Asia but more often than not, clean eating snacks are beyond reach. Between low-quality salads laden with high-sugar dressings, uninspiring ‘healthy foods’ that taste like cardboard and costly fresh foods that I might as well have flown to their countries of origin to get them, it was tough,” says Chung, who previously worked in fashion and cosmetics.

As quickly as local snack brands emerge, so do the imported offerings on grocery store shelves. But small local businesses, such as Sow Vegan, think they have an advantage over the international products.

Sow Vegan makes vegan snacks such as fruit chips, raw cookies, kale chips, teriyaki squid and granola in small batches to ensure freshness. Organic and locally grown produce is used as far as possible to support local organic farmers.

“There is definitely a market for locally made snacks in Hong Kong. People are becoming more health conscious and they are concerned with what they fuel their body with,” says Pamela Joey Poon, who founded the company with high school friend Marium Butt in January this year. ”Customers know who is making the products, how they are made and where the ingredients came from.”

McLean hopes to fill a gap in the market for affordable healthy snacks with his HK$88 per week snack box. He says there seem to be two types of snacks on offer: “high-end organic, blessed by the Dalai Lama, super expensive ones, and low-end chemical and sugar-riddled junk”.

Ingredients are sourced from the US, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa and Asia, McLean says. They are then mixed and repackaged into concoctions such as “Bo Lo Bao 2.0” (mini pretzels, pineapple and macadamia nuts) and “Coffeecobana” (dark chocolate-covered espresso beans, hazelnuts and juice-infused cranberries).

Customers pick one of four box types – Original, Skinny (fewer than 150 calories per snack), kids (nut-free) and Corporate Pantry Bulk Boxes. each week there is a selection from about 40 possible snack flavours. Customers can rate the snacks online to customise the box to their tastes.

Since soft launching in October last year and officially launching in February this year, McLean says ChewsWize has garnered great response from busy office workers and busy parents who enjoy the convenience of “clean, innovative snacking with some cheekiness”. On average he sells 2,500 snacks per month to individuals and companies.

Chung’s Guilt Free Food box caters to a slightly different crowd: thirty-somethings who are into fitness and nutrition but don’t have time to prep their food due to demanding careers and busy social lives. She offers two boxes: high-protein paleo and vegan (both HK$79 each), each containing four individually packed snacks.

Deliveries are made three times a week and the menu changes every week. Popular items include pulled pork, tofu pockets, paleo banana cake and chia seed pudding.

But healthy or not, too much snacking isn’t a good thing – especially in the absence of hunger. In an article published last year in Eating Behaviours, a researcher from Queensland University of Technology in Australia cautioned that eating too frequently, especially when not hungry, is a potential cause of weight gain.

In the study, volunteers were offered a chocolate snack right after they’d eaten as much as they wanted of a similar snack food. Three quarters of the participants took the second chocolate snack. Those who ate the most of the extra snack were more impulsive, more responsive to food reward, and had a higher body mass index.

“Excessive portion size and energy-dense foods are often blamed for weight gain but the frequency of eating is a significant contributor, too,” says researcher Dr Stephanie Fay, who is based in London with the World Cancer Research Fund.