Wendell Paulus and Roberta Boffo are bringing the Amazonian superfood açaí to Hong Kong, reconnecting with their roots to give a better life to those back home.
Wendell and Roberta Boffo are the couple introducing Amazonian wonder fruit Açaí to Hong Kong with the dual and far-flung hopes of improving environmental and economic conditions in Suriname, whilst also promoting a sustainable lifestyle in their new, adopted city. Originally from opposite ends of the world – Wendell is from a tribal village in the Amazon jungle while Roberta is from a small town in Italy, the two met in Beijing before moving to Hong Kong, where they founded Asopie, which will be officially launching on September 15th. They sat down in their new retail space in Sai Kung to explain how they plan to go about it all.
What makes açaí berries a wonder fruit? Wendell describes them as “a superfood rich in antioxidants. They boost your immune system and give you a lot of energy.” To him, however, they are much more than an optimal nutritional source. Having grown up in the Amazon, these wonder berries were a cultural symbol – as well as daily occurrence – of his upbringing. Asopie hopes to bring that same real deal to Hong Kong – “as pure as you would have it in Suriname,” explains Wendell.
To that end, much of the beginnings of their business were spent figuring out how to get the same açaí that locals were living off in the Amazon to the other side of the world. “Maintaining the best form of the frozen product while shipping it quickly and inexpensively,” was a huge challenge that took five months of research to answer. Frozen within 24 hours of harvesting, their berries are now handpicked in the jungle before being blended into a natural pulp and then, eventually, delivered door-to-door.
It might have been a lengthy process getting their logistics sorted, but it’s not one the couple regrets thanks to the connections, opportunities and understanding it taught them along the way. “Suriname is rich in natural resources, but most of the investments are in things like timber harvesting and gold mining, things that are destroying the environment,” explains Wendell. “When you have multinationals coming in and destroying that kind of environment, they are literally pushing us out.” With job options few and far between, locals are being forced to pursue paths that damage the environment. “What we are doing with Asopie is creating another source of income for the local people. You have people who just cut down the açaí tree to get the fruits, but in a few months, that same tree could have born fruits again. We climb up the tree and pick the fruits. We want to ensure that there’s going to be a lasting supply of açaí.”
For Wendell and Roberta, this has always been the dream. “We were never the kind of people who were happy with a 9-5. We always wanted to create a business that really carried our passions and our roots, something that connects with our backgrounds, families, values.” Asopie is equal parts about giving back and paying it forward. “We want to give something back to our homes and also give something of value to the community here. Hong Kong is just as important to us as Suriname and Italy.”
The couple divides their time at work. Roberta describes herself as “fast fast fast,” and enthusiastic, which she attributes to her Italian heritage, while Wendell is more strategic. Being a couple running a business undoubtedly makes it a 24/7 concern, “because we are in a relationship and especially because this is a start-up, we live, breathe, and eat the business,” says Wendell. Still, they’re determined that it doesn’t define them. “The business is something that we do together, but it is not what keeps us together. Always remember who you were before and why you got together in the first place, no matter who you become afterwards and no matter where the business takes you.”
What’s in store for the future of Asopie? With a flourish of his hand, Wendell points to their roomy, well-lit space in Sai Kung, where art pieces are currently sitting out to dry. “The biggest thing coming up is this space. We plan to set up a small store where people can try our products. We want to do workshops about food, sustainability, art. We are planning our next product, tapioca, one of the main foods for tribal people. We are also working on retail and will probably launch through supermarkets next month.” And you can bet they will do it all with plenty of heart.