Reducing food waste in the food and beverage industry is an important part of improving sustainability. That’s why CHOMP, an app to change the food waste game, should be on your radar.
Beyond single-use plastic for to-go orders, F&B businesses around the world often toss out perfectly good food at the end of the day. On top of that, the COVID pandemic and waves of outbreaks and closures in the city have made ordering inventory more challenging for businesses uncertain about what to expect – with dining restrictions going back and forth, some see a horde of customers one day and a dearth the next.
Hong Kong is the company’s starting point for three reasons (or statistics). According to the company, one-third of all food ends up in the trash, 13 million bowls of rice are thrown away every day and 40% of Hong Kong’s landfills are made up of food waste.
CHOMP launched in August 2021. It’s a new app designed to shift perspectives on food consumption and sustainability in Hong Kong. The app connects customers to businesses, both small and big, in the area with surplus food. CHOMP refers to this process as “rescuing” food.
If your initial reaction is hesitation, keep reading and think again. The food in need of rescuing is perfectly edible and unspoiled and is available simply because it went through the day unsold. Log onto the app to order a Mystery Box, an assortment of surprise food sold at a discount. CHOMP offers pickup only.
TMS caught up with Carla Martinesi, CEO and co-founder of CHOMP, to learn more about the app and CHOMP’s sustainability mission.
The beginnings of CHOMP
“Me and my co-founder Chris [Wettling] both studied hospitality in Switzerland,” says Martinesi, who has herself lived in more than eight countries and speaks four languages. “While we were studying, a lot of our courses around hospitality were about food and beverage cost control and how to manage food surplus in a kitchen, whether it’s a restaurant or a cafe.
“We already had quite a background on food control. Chris’ dad was an executive chef for the Peninsula Group for many, many years, so he grew up being in a kitchen and understanding portion control and food storage. I had worked in hotels and restaurants before.
“When we came to Hong Kong, we asked ourselves what was happening to all the food in Hong Kong because it’s really different to what it’s like in Europe,” explains Martinesi. “In Europe, it’s easy to understand sustainability and there [are] a lot of laws about it. There’s a lot of community composting. Here it’s very different and not much of a priority for people, especially the government.”
After conducting some research in late 2020, Martinesi and Wettling discovered that the pandemic had caused a considerable uptick in food waste. Not only that, but COVID had put a strain on food and beverage businesses.
“We’ve had a lot of people tell us we’re doing a good thing here,” says Martinesi. “And that really means a lot to us, especially since we started so small. At first, we just hoped that it would help a couple of business owners stay open for a couple months longer. And then it turned into a conversation with some big names. Now, we really hope this gets to change the way businesses operate and hopefully change the way that we look at sustainability and reducing food waste.”
Both Martinesi and Wettling are half Chinese, half Swiss. Though they studied in Switzerland, they were raised in Hong Kong. “We wanted to do something to help our community,” says Martinesi. “Our biggest priority was to make sure our app was adapted to the locals. We made sure that everything was bilingual, like the app and all of our communications, including our email and our marketing.”
How it works
“You open the app, and it asks if you want to log in,” begins Martinesi. “You can visit it as a guest, of course, because we don’t want to limit you. If you don’t want to sign up and you just want to browse it quickly, you can. It shows up with a map of Hong Kong with different categories and two types of pins. The pins are marked in red if the store is open and currently has some food to rescue, or the pins show up in gray, which means it’s closed for the time being. You’ve got different categories, like bar, cafe and bakery, restaurant, grocery store, takeaway stores.
“You have a list at the bottom, and the open stores show up first,” says Martinesi. “When you click on them it takes you to a little description that shows what the store is and the address and it shows the opening time if it’s closed, and it shows the pick up time if it’s open and has food available to rescue. We have the Mystery Box because stores might not know what’s leftover, but they know for sure that something is leftover at the end of the day. They also include allergens in the description.”
With CHOMP, every item is at least 25% off – if not more. Pricing depends on the vendor. Once you’ve chosen your store and Mystery Box, just place the order on the app, provide payment information and check out. When you arrive at the store, simply show the order identification number at the register, and they will hand you your rescued food. Quality food at a discount and reducing food waste – plus a surprise? Yes, please.
“We started looking into building a web platform, but it turned into an app later on,” says Martinesi. “The reason for this was multiple things. We did market research with some vendors and customers … in the survey we found that many people just wanted it to be as easy as possible. Part of that was having a mobile app so you can just click on it, instead of a website where you have to open Safari and type it in and then log in everytime.”
While developing the concept, the CHOMP co-founders went door to door in Central, the neighborhood with the highest density of restaurants in Hong Kong. They targeted small local businesses. When they launched, 20 establishments had committed to the partnership. Some had already embarked on the sustainability journey, while others took their first step by joining CHOMP.
“People think sustainability is complicated, and we want to debunk that,” says Martinesi.
Check out CHOMP’s links to keep up with the latest news, download the app and start rescuing food in Hong Kong.
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