With sustainability at its core, Phenix by OnTheList was launched in Hong Kong as an innovative solution for the city’s growing food waste problem. Hive Life chats with the food rescue platform’s Country Manager, Anne-Claire Beraud, as she shares comprehensive insights on its transformative capabilities, and how the Phenix app is driving sustainable change in the local F&B sector.
Hong Kong has long been celebrated as a “culinary paradise” with diverse and thriving food culture- from local street delights to world-renowned cuisines, the city was the epitome of the drink, eat, repeat lifestyle! Keeping up with this image, however, has brought dire consequences for the city, with its food wastage crisis on the rise. As reported by the Environmental Protection Department, food waste accounted for 30% of all municipal solid waste in 2021, being the largest constituent of Hong Kong landfills.
Although the ongoing pandemic brought uncertainty and inconsistency, it did however make us rethink our way of living, shifting our priorities towards practising sustainability and mindfulness. Thus, innovating new solutions and incorporating sustainable strategies has now become essential for brands to keep up with the changing times and even cut costs. This is especially relevant for the Food and Beverages (F&B) sector, where a significant effort needs to be made to reduce waste.
Steering conscious and mindful practices in Hong Kong’s ever-flourishing F&B industry, a pioneering food rescue platform is leading the city’s sustainability movement. Phenix by OnTheList is a synergy of its two parent companies – the Phenix app, a France-based FoodTech solution fighting food waste, and OnTheList, Asia’s first flash sales concept founded in Hong Kong, introducing sustainability to the fashion space.
Through its original concept, the Phenix app is making a mindful impact, granting new life to food that would otherwise be discarded at day end. Since its establishment, the app has partnered with many small and giant players in the local F&B scene, listing their products on the food rescue platform and attracting a wide audience with its grand discounts and amazing offers for food essentials.
Hive Life caught up with the Country Manager at Phenix by OnTheList, Anne-Claire Beraud, on how the platform is navigating food wastage in Hong Kong, its appeal and growth over the course of the pandemic, and deep-dived into the food rescue app’s concept.
Can you introduce us to Phenix by OnTheList’s platform?
Phenix is a B2C mobile app developed in France, and is available in countries around Europe and in Hong Kong.
We launched [Phenix] in Hong Kong last year in February, and this mobile app connects the F&B industry to the consumer so that no unsold good food ends up in waste.
Our objective is to educate people about food waste, and to raise awareness about the food wastage issue, and its impact on the planet. How we want to do it, is to give [customers] a chance to rescue food via the application, by the concept of discounts.
How did Phenix make its way to the Asian marketplace?
At first, the objective of Phenix was really to focus on and develop in Europe, which still is the case. OnTheList was launched six years ago by a French couple, Delphine and Diego, and they [developed the] concept of flash sales in Hong Kong. They wanted to do similar things and launch this kind of concept, but without having to build the app from scratch. They then contacted Phenix to see if we were interested in launching in Asia, and this is how Phenix by OnTheList was created and launched.
Have you always worked in the sustainability field?
It was just a part of my education- not wasting food or just thinking about how other people don’t even have food to eat. When I was working in a hotelier company, we were importing some frozen products from France, and then Covid hit. We had this stock on hand that we couldn’t sell and had to rethink how to transform the food so it does not go to waste. We donated to charities, but [it made me reflect on] the wastage situation in Hong Kong.
Later, I just happened to find this opportunity with Phenix and wanted to be a part of it.
What was it like introducing the food rescue concept to Hong Kongers?
When we talk with western brands, they are more likely to understand the concept. But with more local shops, they don’t necessarily understand the concept, and it takes more time in making sure they understand how we can help, and how they can benefit from joining us.
In terms of communicating to the consumers, we really attract people with two approaches, either discounts or our sustainability. Sometimes, people will be more attracted by the discounts and then they understand a bit more about what we concretely want to do and our objective. Some people are really attracted by the concept of saving food and we communicate on both depending on the audience.
Why are transformative food waste solutions, such as the Phenix app, important for Hong Kong’s future?
First, there really is a demand. Food waste in Hong Kong [accounts for] one-third of total waste. We can see there is a big issue around food waste that people are not necessarily aware of, [as well as] the limited space in landfills. We need to find a solution to create a more circular economy and this is what we do with the app. All the food that each shop normally throws away, they can [simply] sell through our app.
Being located in both Europe as well as Asia, what have been some of the major differences in consumer habits between these locations?
I would say in Europe, people have been discussing sustainability for a long time now. I grew up in France, and have always been recycling, and even was educated about food wastage.
I think Hong Kong is very late in terms of sustainability [awareness], and when you talk about food rescue, people don’t really catch what you mean. [However,] when you propose the application, everybody is very interested in the 50% discount, while sustainability is maybe only 10% of the attractiveness of the app. But via the discount process, is still a way to get them involved.
What has the impact of the pandemic been like for Phenix?
The pandemic was actually positive for us, contrary to other companies and businesses, and I think more people actually use the app. So now, we are still growing but we had this nice push in March.
We launched during the pandemic, so at first, our partner and user database was growing slowly. With the fifth wave, we really had a jump in the number of orders and baskets sold, as people had more flexibility going to the shop and picking up baskets. Salary cuts [as an effect of the pandemic] may have also impacted them to get products at a 50% discount instead of normal prices.
How has the pandemic impacted consumer food habits?
Globally with the pandemic, I think people had more time to rethink and look around themselves, beyond focusing on their work. With access to more information, people started to look more into what we do, and where we go [from here]. We can see now that many people, even companies, have started to think more about sustainability.
In Hong Kong, it is still very new, and step by step, we can already see that it’s improving.
How does Phenix reduce stigma around unclaimed food items?
In the beginning, our catchphrase mentioned food waste, which is the actual translation of the catchphrase in France – “Anti-food Waste Application.”
People think straight away of leftover food, which is not what we do. So we started to talk more about food surplus and unsold food of the day. We always try to evolve and change to better adapt to the consumer.
How does the Phenix app facilitate sustainability in the F&B industry?
When a new partner joins the application, they have access to our platform and can publish their offers. Our system is quite simple and really straightforward for both our partners and customers, as we bring a simple solution for them.
We sit down with brands and ask them about their needs and wastage situation, and to create [packages] based on the food wastage that they have.
After that, the offer is published on the app, and the users can purchase it.
Why is it more important than ever for F&B brands to take up food sustainability initiatives?
It is really important because sustainability [awareness] is still very low in Hong Kong. We have too much waste and not enough space, which in the end is going to be bad for the planet. If we want to live in a world without issues, we need to as consumers, but also businesses, make more impact.
We bring a solution by communicating about it, and convincing people not only to join the Phenix app but also to take initiative to do business more responsibly, also for [customers] to consume more responsibly.
What are the benefits of Phenix for your F&B partners?
First, on the sustainability side, they can simply reduce their waste. They can get some extra revenue as well because they can sell products that otherwise, on a daily basis, will go to waste.
They can take the opportunity to get extra visibility from another sales channel, and since [customers] will go to their shop to pick up, they might actually buy other products at full price so it additionally can bring in new customers.
If they take other initiatives, it will improve their green brand image and highlight their purpose [and efforts] in helping the planet.
What does the future look like for Phenix?
We [recently] won an award for [the Sustainable Open Innovation challenge] in Singapore, organised by the government and other private companies.
We see that there is a need for other countries to implement external and existing solutions and the idea of launching in Hong Kong was just the first entry point in Asia, and we plan to expand to other countries.