How a HK firm gained traction with 'farm to table' food delivery

July 10, 2018 12:37
Every morning, farmers and importers freshly harvest and prepare the orders from Jou Sun's platform for delivery that afternoon. Photo: Jou Sun

With a stated aim of making local produce easily accessible to consumers, online marketplace Jou Sun is helping Hong Kong people who wish to buy fresh and cheap food directly from the producers.

Founded in 2015, Jou Sun was once a startup that did wet-market shopping for customers using part-time workers, including local housewives. The company found that many of the workers were too busy to take up assignments during Christmas time and summer holidays. In view of this, the platform switched its focus and began working with local farms and importers to provide direct 'farm to table' delivery service.

According to co-founder Jessica Lam, here is how it works: Jou Sun’s users place an order before 8 pm. In the morning of the next day, farmers in the local farms working with Jou Sun will harvest the crops and prepare the order. The fresh produce will then be sent to a distribution center for packaging, and delivered to the customers' doors that same afternoon.

"The fresh food can be delivered from the farm to customers’ doors within 12 hours,” says Lam, adding that it is much faster compared with the normal procedure for imported vegetables, which can take a few days from the foreign farms shipping to Hong Kong, going through inspection and quarantine by customs office, as well as packaging and processing by wholesalers and retailers before finally being delivered to customers.

The quality of fresh produce will deteriorate due to improper temperature and transportation, Lam notes. "In each stage during the process, a part of the fresh ingredients will be discarded. On average, 30 percent of the fresh vegetables are indeed wasted."

In addition to reducing wastage of food, Lam said Jou Sun’s model allows traceable food from the producers, which are vetted by the firm through checks of licenses and certificates. "You might see stalls in the wet markets promoting ‘local vegetables,’ but can you find out exactly which local farm the produce comes from?”

To assure about food safety, Jou Sun makes information about the fresh produce more transparent by listing the farmer and providing the farm details on its online platform. They plan to add a new feature that will allow customers to leave comments about the food products easily, Lam added.

Jou Sun now works with 10 local organic farms in Hong Kong and also import produce from two Guangzhou farms owned by Hongkongers. Middlemen are cut out from Jou Sun’s model, enabling the platform to sell the fresh food products at competitive prices compared with local supermarket giants.

Jou Sun, however, pays higher prices to food producers than what they would get if they go through the supply chain route for supermarkets. Local farmers can earn 50 percent more by selling their produce to the platform instead of trading with wholesalers in the market, according to Lam.

In recent years, concierge grocery delivery service has been a booming sector in the city. Singapore-based Honestbee has partnered with some supermarkets to offer a super-quick delivery service for the purchase of grocery products.

Asked if Jou Sun aims to offer a faster delivery service than the one it has now, Lam said, “We once tried extending our order cut-off time from 8 pm on the previous night to 12 midnight, but then we found that it would increase farmers’ burden staying up late and getting up early, which we think is not a good practice."

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 10

Translation by Ben Ng 

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal