Bulletin May 2019 (Vol. 20 No. 2)

A student-led social enterprise is addressing the problem of food waste by selling products that have passed the ‘best before’ date but are still safe to eat. THE BUSINESS OF ‘BEST BEFORE' explain the concept of ‘best before’ to customers and let them taste the products to gain their confidence,” Terence said. Currently there are about 20 full- and part-time staff. The enterprise also has about 200 distributors who supply inventory, which continually changes according to the goods available. Most of the goods are imports from Europe and North America and appeal mainly to an educated, middle-class customer base. A learning experience Apart from being a sound business idea, GreenPrice has also been a learning experience. Terence has been closely involved in GreenPrice’s growth despite the demands of full-time studies (he is in his final year) and sees the Hong Kong throws away more than 3,600 tonnes of food waste every day, amounting to one-third of all domestic waste according to the Environmental Protection Department. Yet a lot of that food is still edible. One of the reasons it ends up in landfills is the confusion between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ labels. BBA student Terence Hon and his colleagues saw this as both a business opportunity and a chance to contribute to sustainability. ‘Use by’ dates refer to food safety and generally apply to perishables such as meat and dairy, while ‘best before’ dates are about optimum quality – the food is still safe to eat, although the texture or other features might become a little different. Supermarkets (and households) typically remove both kinds of products from their shelves when they are near or past the date. “It’s very wasteful,” said Terence, “so we decided to start a company that takes back ‘best before’ goods that are ready to be doing. The course brings in speakers from the business world to share their experiences and encourages students to think creatively about potential business ideas. “Terence is a very successful case. He is passionate and wants a more sustainable planet. He also has a sharp eye and saw a business opportunity.” Terence plans to continue developing GreenPrice when he graduates, including its higher aims. “Even if people don’t purchase from us, we hope they will understand the concept that you shouldn’t throw away food that is still edible but past the ‘best before’ date. We want to cut down waste.” █ European countries had entire supermarkets wholly devoted to ‘best before’ foods. “It made me wonder why Hong Kong didn’t have this kind of business since it is good for society,” said Terence. The students subsequently applied to funding programmes and competitions for support in growing their business and in 2018 opened two full-time shops – one in a revitalised industrial building in Kwun Tong and another in Kwai Fong – with plans to open a third shop in 2019. An important part of the firm’s success has been its effort to educate customers about the GreenPrice concept. Terence and his co-founders were heavily involved in this in the beginning, talking directly to customers and giving talks at schools and universities. “But most of our education is done inside the shop. Our stores are located in places with high traffic and the shop staff will enterprise as an important opportunity to apply his learning. He had no previous experience in running a business. “It’s very difficult to start from scratch with no business or industry knowledge, especially an industry new to Hong Kong. You need really good people to support you. You need professors who are industry experts, like Ernest who has started several companies and knows how partnerships work,” he said. “I’ve learned that in order to have a successful business, you need to try to do things in a different way. You need to be bold and go out and talk to people.” Dr Lo for his part said Terence was putting into practice what his course intended: to learn by disposed of. We sell them in a hurry, at a bottom price, to maintain market efficiency and reduce waste.” The company, GreenPrice, was launched in December 2016 with a pop-up stall at a weekend market that sold ‘best before’ products sourced from a distributor who was planning to send them to a landfill. The goods were within three months before or after their ‘best before’ date and sold for around 50 per cent of the supermarket retail price. The venture was reported on in the Apple Daily newspaper in early 2017, which created a buzz around the business and led to distributors contacting the students. Shop openings Things ramped up further after Terence took the course ‘Creativity and Business Innovation’ taught by Dr Ernest Lo, Lecturer in the Faculty of Business and Economics. Dr Lo was explaining the circular economy and mentioned that Even if people don’t purchase from us, we hope they will understand the concept that you shouldn’t throw away food that is still edible but past the ‘best before’ date. We want to cut down waste. Mr Terence Hon The GreenPrice team and Dr Ernest Lo (first from right) at the Hong Kong Social Enterprise Challenge. The GreenPrice Supermarket in Kwai Chung Plaza, Kwai Fong. Knowledge Exchange 43 | 44 The University of Hong Kong Bulletin | May 2019