Globally, there is a trend of private companies adopting an ESG approach (Environment, Social and Governance) in drawing business plans. Chomp and Yindii are two innovative food-ordering platforms launched in 2021. They aim to solve the food waste problem of restaurants by selling surplus food at the end of the day to customers at a large discount.
The discount is very appealing to budget-concerned customers, such as students. Most partner restaurants offer discounts at 50 percent or higher.
“I will (buy the food), regardless of whether I have had dinner or if I just happened to pass by,” said Mr Chan, a middle-aged white-collar citizen who works in Central. He said the price and the vision of these platforms were appealing to him.
In fact, discounted food is not a novel idea to locals. Some large supermarket chains set up corner stands to display discounted soon-to-be-expired food, or products with broken packages.
The social enterprise, GreenPrice, pushed this idea even further. It retails surplus and short-dated food, cosmetics and personal items from hundreds of vendors and resells them at a significant discount.
“They offer more types (of products), they never repeat,” said Ms Wong, a middle-aged citizen working in Central, citing the wide variety of products as her primary incentive as a customer. She visits GreenPrice during her lunch breaks from work.
While the customers are mostly happy with cheaper options, business owners are struggling to join in.
“My margin in Chomp is very little,” said Brian Christopher Aguilar, the owner of two partner restaurants listed in Chomp. One of his restaurants, Kale, offers half-priced lunchboxes.
Apart from promotional purposes, there is very low incentive for restaurants to partner with platforms such as Chomp and Yindii. “People get to try the food,” Aguilar said. Since his brands are rather high-end and expensive, students and low-budget customers usually refrain from purchasing. However, this is not very attractive to business owners.
In fact, to deal with food waste, Aguilar focuses more on avoiding over-stocking. He pointed out some of the restaurants would over-stock ingredients to get a cheaper price, leading to high waste.
“I am doing that (joining the platform) just because of my relationship with Chomp’s founder,” Aguilar said. He is happy to provide some discounted lunchboxes, despite his restaurants’ low wastage, to show his support of their vision.
Yindii charges a fee upon each successful order. Partner businesses get less than 50% of the original price at the end. “Just enough to cover the food cost, not even the manpower,” Aguilar added.
Moreover, joining these platform may mean that some customers will shift from shopping during normal business hours to discount hours, making the potential reduction of customers during normal business hours a concern. This phenomenon can be discouraging to SMEs.
The Hong Kong government has launched the Pilot Green and Sustainable Finance Capacity Building Support Scheme (the “scheme”) on 13 December, 2022. The scheme encourages people to pursue training related to sustainable finance. The government has also introduced other targeted-schemes, including the Electric Vehicles Incentives, to promote environmental protection.
However, green ideas out of these narrow goals are barely covered. The support to local enterprises from the government is limited to youngsters, poverty-alleviating or technological advancing projects. Social solutions have to compete under a more general scope.
The closure of Mil Mill, the only drink carton recycler in Hong Kong, triggered a wide discussion about the lack of policy from the government to green initiatives, with costs unbearable to owners.
The upcoming waste-charging scheme in April 2024 shifts part of the responsibility to the citizens. The government, however, would need to take extra steps by virtue of this extra income.
In alignment with the United Nations’ sustainability goals, ESG companies, policies and trading are welcomed by many countries. But it is still a long way until Hong Kong is able to nurture ESG ideas that are both financially and environmentally sustainable.