How Food Rescue App CHOMP is Helping Reduce Hong Kong’s Waste Problem One Bite at a Time
March 28, 2022
Hong Kong’s role as the global intersection of diverse cuisines has led to a swathe of new restaurants, bars, and cafés constantly popping up in every corner. But this bustling F&B scene has also been grappling with an inconvenient truth: piles of unsold food potentially ending up in landfills.
In 2019, Hong Kong landfilled 3,353 tonnes of food waste, making up 30% of the total municipal solid waste generated in that year. This included more than 1,000 tonnes of food waste from commercial and industrial sources such as restaurants, hotels, wet markets, and food production and processing industries. Between 2012 and 2019, the amount of food waste from this segment increased from about 800 tonnes to over 1,000 tonnes per day.
Chris Wettling and Carla Martinesi, co-founders of food rescue app CHOMP, are banking on technology to create a ripple effect amidst Hong Kong’s mounting food waste problem. Soft-launched in August 2021, CHOMP is a mobile app that lets users “rescue” food at a discounted price while helping store owners clear out their excess supply. On the app, you can choose from a bevy of CHOMP’s partner cafés and restaurants with the most convenient pick-up time, then select a “Mystery Box,” a packed bag of edible goodies that are either unsold for the day or have a short life span. Once your order is confirmed, head over to the store at the agreed pick-up time to collect your food.
CHOMP’s business model attempts to tackle two issues: reducing food waste while incentivising customers through discounts, and helping pandemic-hit businesses have an extra stream of revenue while preventing their supplies from ending up in landfills.
“It was during COVID-19, when we started thinking about how the pandemic was changing everything that we were doing. COVID-19 changed the way we go to work, go to school, how we socialise, how we interact with each other,” Chris told The Beat Asia over a Zoom call in late January.
“And then we also thought, ‘what's happening to food?’ [T]here's a lot more waste being produced because of things like no dine-in service for example,” Chris added, recounting how the app materialised after more than one and a half years of planning.
Chris and Carla’s background in the F&B and hospitality industries helped propel CHOMP’s ideation and execution. For Chris, a graduate of events management from Glion Institute of Higher Education, “it has always been a dream to do something F&B-related” especially since his family is in the same industry. The Chinese-Swiss technopreneur also developed a passion for sustainability while studying in Europe, where climate policies are relatively more mature than Hong Kong’s. But while the city’s move toward sustainability has been slow relative to European peers, the city is in the right direction, according to Chris.
“I think sustainability is something that we've definitely grown a lot more passionate about over the years and over our time studying in Europe. And we took it upon ourselves as a challenge to see what solution [would work in Hong Kong.]”
At the time of our interview, CHOMP had sold more than 550 Mystery Boxes, served about 1,200 users, and partnered with over 55 stores in minimising their food waste footprint. CHOMP leaves it up to store owners to decide what to pack in the box, acting primarily as the bridge between hungry Hong Kongers and the establishments. Since the supplies depend on what’s left toward the end of business hours, the Mystery Boxes displayed on the app only contain a general description instead of a specific list of items inside the package. But CHOMP asks its partner stores to include relevant information such as allergens and expiration dates to match customer’s expectations.
In a city where convenience is embedded into its DNA, CHOMP has made a less popular but conscious decision to make the Mystery Boxes up for pick-up only instead of offering delivery services, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and choke the city further with pollution.
“What we're trying to do is encourage sustainable living in Hong Kong [and] show people that it's not too hard to live a little greener, if you really want to. [A] food-related app is quite common…[but] the pick-up [aspect] is definitely something that needs to be encouraged more,” Chris said.
“[H]ong Kong is a convenient city, but…if I'm looking [for dinner,] in theory, I could go dine in or order delivery. But…what we're trying to instill upon people [is that] before I order something from this one platform, maybe I should check CHOMP and see what’s in my area. Maybe there's a bakery a block away from my house that I can go and rescue a sandwich, bag of chips, and fruit juice that could be my dinner tonight. [Or] I could save that for my breakfast tomorrow.”
Encouraging customers to visit the stores themselves on their way to work, for example, is also CHOMP’s way of promoting local businesses.
“Our app is bilingual. I think what sets us apart is our focus [on] the local market, targeting local vendors. I'm half Chinese, Carla is half Chinese. We're all born here. We all call this place home. And we all have a great understanding of Hong Kong. So, as a local team, we definitely want to play our part.”
Chris recognises that food waste is a complex issue at home and abroad that would not be resolved by food rescue apps alone. But he also sees CHOMP not as a mere app that “shov[es] sustainability messages in your face” but a platform where green is marketed as the new black in an informative and engaging way. On their social media pages, the team posts tips and tricks to live a greener life such as how to use leftover pickle juice or how to repurpose lemon peels.
“Hong Kong throws away approximately about 13 million bowls of rice per day, which is a huge number [as] there [are] only about 8 million people here in Hong Kong. [O]ur solution is not here to say, hey, we're going to turn that number to zero. But everyone's got to start somewhere. And you know, every small step counts. We like to tell people: why not start with CHOMP?”
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