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Transforming Hong Kong's food system.

Hong Kong will be Asia’s most sustainable food city by 2050 by transforming Hong Kong's foodservice industry via collaborative engagement.

Photo of Heidi Yu Spurrell

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Food Made Good Hong Kong

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Hong Kong

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Chinese special administrative region

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Hong Kong

What country is your selected Place located in?

Chinese special administrative region

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I set up Food Made Good HK after completing my Masters in Food Policy under the eminent professor Tim Lang. My work with the Sustainable Restaurant Association and Forum for the Future - has inspired me to continue collaborating with businesses to highlight the link between food and sustainability and educate and empower the food industry to take action. Seeing this programme succeed in the UK has inspired me to transfer these learnings and practices to HK - a place where my parents originated before emigrating to the UK. 

HK is a place that is even more food insecure and there is potential to transform the region due to its proximity to mainland China where there is little education of the concept that is sustainable diets. 

I selected HK because of its thriving restaurant scene- it has one of the highest densities of restaurants in the world. Unfortunately this is exacerbating HK's growing waste problem. To make matters worse HKU research shows that HK has one of the highest meat consumption per capita in the world. 

The agricultural sector of HK has greatly diminished, and the food system is heavily reliant on imports. HK imports nearly 90 % of its food and the main source of carbon emissions generated by HK is consumption of meat imports, also making it food insecure and heavily reliant on mainland China for not only food, but also water and energy.

We are 2 full time and 3 part-time employees, based in HK and have extensive experience of working in the food and sustainability sector in the region. We have the expertise, local knowledge and networks to transform HK into Asia’s most sustainable food city. We will do this by working with food outlets to reduce their carbon footprint and to increase the nutritional value of the food they serve, as well as helping them to drive up working standards. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

HK is a semi-autonomous, special administrative region of China and covers an area of 1,098 sq km. The major languages spoken there are Chinese (mainly Cantonese) and English. 

HK's economy is now dominated by the service sector. The sector generates 92.7 per cent of economic output. 

HK has hit a record high of  having 25,000 restaurants and 40.4 restaurants per 20,000 people. HK's food and beverage industry makes around  $141 million per year

Due to its location, HK has a similar culinary beginning to many other coastal regions of the world. Much like other ancient Chinese cities, growth in the region was dependent upon plentiful access to good nutrition. 

In terms of food trends Hongkonger’s Cantonese cafe culture (cha chaan tengs) has been gradually fading out, with many establishments moving out of the city. Young Hongkonger’s nowadays largely enjoy breakfast or tea at Western chains such as Starbucks or fast-food chains such as McDonald's. 

Half of the people living in HK are overweight or obese. As a result of increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, 10.6% of people between the ages of 30 -74 are at risk of developing cardiovascular problems. One of the main causes is an increasing reliance on junk food rather than healthy options for nutrition. NCDs are preventable.

HK is among the world’s most “food-vulnerable” places, importing nearly everything it eats and drinks. About 90% of its food supply is imported, according to the food and health bureau, and most of it comes from mainland China, including all the fresh beef, 94% of the fresh pork, and 92% of the vegetables. HK is also the number one market for Brazilian beef.

HK's over-reliance on imports exposes the city to global commodity disruptions and price fluctuations. Japanese bank Nomura’s latest “food vulnerability index” ranked HK as the world’s 17th most vulnerable place, not far behind Bangladesh and  Syria. 

Sixty-five years ago, HK produced about two-thirds of the vegetables it consumed. Today, it produces about 2%. Until the 1950s, almost all of the food consumed in HK was produced in the surrounding area. But rapid industrialization swallowed up much of the land available for agriculture and and it soon became easier and cheaper to import produce from China and the surrounding area. 

Now, slowly and on a smaller scale, farmers are starting to re-emerge in HK, supported by a restaurant scene that is savvy to the benefits of a fresh local food system, and farmers' markets are popping up across the city, supported by a generation interested in food footprints, supporting smallholder farmers,  and food safety.

Two-thirds of the world's fish farms are in China, but trust for quality local produce and China seafood is low. Many prefer imports from Japan or other places with a better reputation.

HK is one of the world's most expensive places to buy property, this means that using agriculturally zoned land for farming can be much less cost-effective. That is why some of the newest initiatives in Hong Kong, such as Rooftop Republic, are transforming underutilized spaces like rooftops into green, mostly edible oases.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

HK has the second highest carbon footprint per capita in the world, due to the city's high consumption patterns and large volume of imports. A great challenge that the HK food system faces is its heavy reliance on food imports: it imports around 90 per cent of its food goods. By 2050 with growing political tension and shortages of land, food is likely to be used as a political weapon which could lead to regional instability. It is crucial to diversify where food comes from e.g. more imports from other parts of SE Asia will help reduce reliance on a single country.

In 2018 HK had fallen 78% short of the 2030 carbon emissions target set by C40 Cities for high emitting cities. HK is trailing behind its counterpart cities in curbing GHG emissions. The accelerating rate of global warming requires cities like HK's leaders to double up ambition level in fulfilling the Paris Agreement. By 2050 we will see increased rainfall causing crops to die, so we need to be smart about rooftop farming, and use of technology to bridge some gaps. 

HK's growing trend for people to eat out (on average 5-10 times per week) and order takeaway has contributed to a substantial waste problem. In 2017, 68% of HK's waste was sent to landfill. Every year, HK disposes of: 3.6bn Plastic Bags; 1.9bn Plastic Bottles; 1.08bn Plastic Straws; and 760m Coffee Cups. HK's recycling rate lacks behind that of Singapore with the overall recycling rate of 34% and 61%, respectively. With the number of restaurants growing - by 2050  the plastic waste problem will be irreversible with no land fill sites left and even more plastics polluting our oceans.  

HK University found that HK's excessive appetite for meat is the main culprit to its high GHG emissions per capita. The results of the study show that if citizens of HK adopt the governmental dietary guidelines on meat consumption, HK would achieve a 43% reduction in GHG emissions. Thus, simply by adopting a healthier diet and shifting to a less meat and more plant based protein diet, the HK population can actually have a very important role in reducing GHG emissions to the level required to reach the Paris agreement. However this is unlikely with an increase in population and wealth means that meat consumption is likely to continue on an upwards trajectory if there is not a big shift in culture around meat consumption.  

The Coronavirus was likely transmitted from touching or eating an infected animal. Evidence suggests that this was from the tradition of selling fresh meat. By 2050 the population is set to reach 9.8 billion, this increases the likelihood of new infectious diseases spreading, especially when populations are becoming resistant to antibiotics. This points to an urgent need for education and changing cultural patterns to catch up with changing environments; and moving to either modern ways of selling food or better traceability, and hygiene to reduce the likelihood of the transmission of new diseases across international borders. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision is to make HK the most sustainable food city in Asia by making sure that eating out is good for everyone and has a restorative impact on the planet. We will achieve this by working hand-in-hand with businesses from across the foodservice sector as well as like-minded industry bodies, campaign groups and businesses that supply the sector. We invite businesses to become Members, they then can start to benchmark themselves on sustainability in a standardised way. By improving the urban food system we will contribute to the SDGs.

We will support a constantly growing group of restaurants, cafés, bars, cha chaan teng, workplaces and university caterers across on HK to:

•Use local and seasonal produce to reduce haulage costs and the environmental impact of transport & by collaborating with local smallholder farmers

•Increase the proportion of veg-led dishes on menus, purchasing high welfare, traceable meat and dairy products and address the culture of wet market meat

•Serve sustainably caught fish

•Source fairly traded produce, without modern slavery in the supply chain

•Provide equal opportunities, training, living wage, and clear policies

•Engage with the local community, with schools and charities to support the people supporting business

•Offer advice on balanced menu options, reasonable portions and healthy cooking options

•Improve energy efficiency to save resources to protect the environment and manage water usage

•Manage what comes in and goes out business to reduce wastage and eliminate waste-to-landfill

•Monitor, manage and innovate to reduce food waste

How will we do this:

THE SUSTAINABILITY FRAMEWORK - providing foodservice businesses with a manageable means of understanding, reviewing and acting on the issues that matter. Ten key areas of sustainability are divided under three pillars – Sourcing, Society and Environment, reflecting the need to focus on the food that’s sourced and served as well as the impact that it has on the people growing, rearing, cooking and serving it.

SUSTAINABILITY RATING - is the key tool for assessing how successfully a business is addressing the ten key areas of the sustainability framework and for tracking their progress and that of the industry.

AWARDS-the awards will recognise and celebrate the individuals and businesses at the forefront of the sustainable food movement and provide a platform for businesses to communicate the successful initiatives and innovative ideas they have implemented.

COMMUNITY-our online platform is where businesses can engage, connect & seek solutions, share successes (and failures) and communicate with like-minded individuals who are committed to meeting the same goals. Our monthly gatherings also facilitate networks that cross between Western and Chinese restaurants.  We nurture cross-cultural learning as Western and Chinese restaurants/chefs interact in a closer fashion than normal.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

HK is Asia’s most sustainable food city. Eating out choices are based on sustainability Ratings. Mililenials and Gen Zs will choose sustainability, and avoid outlets that ignore the issues. Polystyrene packaging and single use coffee cups will be frowned upon, and plastics will be used only for safety reasons. Innovation on cling film replacement means no SUP in the kitchen. Fish, meat and dairy will be a treat. Plant based eating will be the norm and people will be keen to live lives that protect human health and planetary health. Animal welfare is a mainstream topic.  

The city is re-designed to grow plants due to rooftops being utilised for edible herbs and flowers. Sustainable consumption and responsible packaging is the norm and prices are lower due to the availability of alternative packaging. Recycling is mandatory. Carrying reusables is the norm.  Animal derived sickness affecting humans is lower due to stricter government regulation, guidelines and awareness around animal welfare issues. Eating less and better meat will be the norm as well as an abundance of  healthy protein alternatives including cell based fish and Omnipork, at reasonable prices. Routine use of antibiotics has lessened, growth hormones will be banned and the government will be taking a stronger stance in the region on animal farming practices that favour agroecological and regen farming practices. Negative externalities are costed for.

The population will be healthier due to a i) substantial reduction in air pollution; respiratory diseases will be a thing of the past ii) food decisions is not the first thing that is compromised due to reasonable prices. iii) normalised plant-based diet; iv) heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, diabetes and cognitive decline, significantly reduced across the population. Valuing natural resources and food growing is a norm. People feel empowered to make informed food choices when eating out. Experiences are preferred over consumption of goods.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our vision is that by 2050 HK will be Asia’s most sustainable city. We will achieve this by creating and supporting an increased reliance on a local food system that produces food safely, transparently, and creates food in a way that is affordable; healthy and good for the planet. We will collaborate with other organisations that are helping to shift population diets towards those that are healthy and sustainable.

2050: HK's food system has been transformed 

In 2020 unsustainable food production was about to tip the world's natural resource balance. Over the last 30 years we have shifted the sector away from high impact foods through education and empowerment- there are now a vast array of alternatives that support for a healthy sustainable diet. Using a pragmatic approach farmers whose livelihoods depended on selling meat now have fulfilling and sustainable jobs. Our ‘less and better meat’ toolkits highlighted the need for high welfare standards and this has led to the introduction of new and ‘better’ suppliers, this was achieved through working with experts such as NGO CIWF. Sustainable suppliers are now the norm and monoculture practices, low welfare meat, unsustainable fish are now a thing of the past. Hong Kong's foodservice industry via collaborative engagement has created a push towards more regenerative agricultural practices and this is contributing to climate stability. 

Through our ethos of collaboration and our community approach we are working with a diverse portfolio of stakeholders who are affecting real cultural change. We are collaborating daily with sustainable suppliers, food service providers, caterers, restaurants, NGOs, chefs, and university academics. Our network continues to grow everyday along with people's understanding of good sustainability practices. 

Our advisory board continues to attract a cross-section of experts and influential people, with diverse backgrounds from across the food and environmental sector, we are drawing on different perspectives to diagnose the priority issues each year. Their term still runs on a rotating 2 year cycle since systems challenges are still complex and changing. Our founding board have been awarded with a number of honours due to their contributions to tackling climate change by transforming the food system in HK. This is where they started from:

Our framework and ratings system devised by working closely with diverse stakeholders: including single issue NGOs like Oxfam for research on the living wage, WWF for climate change and World Research Institution (WRI) have led to real behavioural change, including a 90% reduction in meat consumption and a 90% increase in plant based diets. We have continued to collaborate with Forum for the Future on our work with chefs and this has led to an increase in plant based culinary education.

Through our framework HK diners now choose sustainable options when eating out of home guided by the stickers we provide our restaurant members. 100% of HK’s population now identify as flexitarian; the desire for sustainable plant-based dining has overtaken the desire for meat. Our ‘serve more veg and better meat’ has educated and empowered both members and the public on the need to shift to a more plant based protein diet, and away from meat heavy protein. 

Our Ratings is widely accepted by the industry and has been rolled out across HK. Local businesses (sustainable suppliers with sustainable restaurants) are all connected with each other and this has led to rapid progress. Due to our low Membership fees all food outlets have joined. Our Members use our toolkits on a daily basis and they are available in bilingual format which has helped reach the local market where most of the changes have happened. We have helped them engage and taught them how to communicate sustainability issues with their diners. 

The Ratings system addresses the costs of food and how to make sustainability changes that are economically viable. Our ratings have led to an increase in: diversity and inclusion, gender diversity, equal pay and the living wage across the food sector. Before it was a race to the bottom; now organisations are racing to the top in terms of how they treat their workforce. Small holder farmers are working hand-in- hand with our Members. This has increased understanding of agricultural practices and how food is grown. Our toolkits have led to a substantial reduction in waste. Everyone using our Ratings system is scoring highly because they have increased plant-based recipes, and are sharing knowledge around clever ways to introduce healthy options in eating out of home settings. Our toolkits, for example, have led to communities working together in order to create collective food collection points.

We are now the THE GOLD STANDARD for restaurant sustainability ratings and the HK government has endorsed our programme. The local food culture has now shifted and this has led to a healthier population. Obesity and cardiovascular diseases are now a thing of the past. There is now less strain on the local health service and this has resulted in surplus funds being invested in sustainable community projects and better education. HK has helped to reduce the worlds GHGs and is more politically and economically stable as it no longer relies on one country for most of its food goods. 

Chefs have played a major part in shifting the food system. Through our work the global chef community have been working together in different regions and cities; including the Chef Manifesto initiative- this has led to the scaling up of plant based diets. High profile and food service chefs in HK are working together and continuously developing and promoting regionally appropriate approaches to influencing diets.  

Chefs are designing what we choose to eat, driving innovation in product design for food service and manufacturing, and they are shaping the way the world thinks about food. Chefs are trend-setters and leaders in the food industry and have been critical to shaping a more balanced plate and diversifying our protein choices. Yesterday’s students – are now today’s chefs – and they are playing a crucial role in transforming our attitudes towards food in a healthy and environmentally responsible way. 

Our work has encouraged changes in technological innovation and the way food is produced and consumed. New organisations and methods that started to emerge in 2020 such as Kadoorie Farm and vertical farming have taken off. Cultural conservationists, such as Craig Au Yeung, have been brought together by a sustainable food approach. HK’s indoor fish farming innovation has led to sustainability in the fisheries sector. ChineseU launched the first plant-based studies course in Asia in 2020 now this course is commonplace in every college and university. The amount of plant-based food tech companies from Asia had trebled, before there were only a handful including, Omnipork in Hong Kong and Zhen Meats in China. Cell-based foods are now widely available across Asia. Every food outlet has recognised the potential of moving to a more sustainable approach and this has led to a massive increase in food innovation. 

Our large Membership programme has given us a bigger voice to influence change. We have mobilised and found consensus in areas and this has driven change at a policy level: sustainability solutions are now the norm, there is a comprehensive recycling system and a sustainable fish sourcing policy. HK has banned all plastic and all packaging is now sustainable. HK now has strong policies in food waste, animal welfare and fair trade. Through our large network all restaurants are part of a collective recycling scheme this has lead to a substantial reduction in waste and carbon emissions.  

Our vision has always been informed by the community and our understanding of the local culture. We have been sensitive to the cultural influence of food and understood that a shift in mindsets regarding food habits will take time. That is why we employed sustainability by stealth, and behaviour economics and Service Design to our services. By working with wet market and consumers we have reduced the demands for ‘warm meat,’ this has led to a decrease in the outbreak of deadly viruses. 

In 2020 after only 2 months of operation we had already signed up 26 chefs and restaurant Members and 5 supplier Members and were in talks with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and by the end of 2020 we had 100 members signed up. Through the Food System Vision Prize funds we were able to scale at speed. This was achieved by bringing more staff on board to help make our vision reality. By creating a mobile version of our Community platform Chefs and restaurateurs were able to really engage with the platform and speed up the movement. 

Thanks to winning the Food System Vision Prize in 2020 we were able to expand our reach to create greater sustainability in the food sector- within 3 years we had reached 5% of the 25000 outlets in HK and by 2050 we have now reached 60 % of all outlets. 

Through our work with chefs, restaurants, food suppliers and food producers, consumers have access to a wide variety of sustainable food options -HK is now the greenest City in Asia.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Attachments (5)

Member Value Proposition-HK-Oct.pdf

Member Benefits Word Version

FMG Member Benefits - 23 Nov 2019 (TC)_final.pdf

Our Member Benefits - Chinese Version

FMG Member Benefits - 22 Nov 2019 (EN)_final.pdf

Our Member benefits and our framework


A strong values led brand helps us consistently tell our story

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Dear Heidi Yu Spurrell  , Congratulations on being shortlisted as a Semi-Finalist. Welcome to Refinement!

Through refinement, we'd like to see the details in the broad strokes of the Vision you painted for your region.
How might you bring your Vision into sharper focus through:
1. Building partnerships and forming a systemic and multi-disciplinary Vision Team
2. Visualising your future food system to help people see and feel the future of their food system
3. Assessing the feasibility of your future food system to better anticipate its needs and challenges

We invite you to take full advantage of the open platform here – to tag in team members into your Vision, connect with other Refinement teams, and solicit feedback from participants around the world.

It’s great to continue with you into this next phase. Consider me your support for questions you might have while on this platform.

Looking forward to seeing a detailed and Refined Vision for your region in the coming weeks.

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