Organic food retailer and zero waste advocate Raphaël De Ry is revolutionising Hong Kong’s shopping scene with his fun and quirky bulk grocery store Edgar.
For years, Hong Kong has been dubbed a shopping paradise, but beneath all that prosperity is a staggering amount of waste, much of it produced by the retailing industry, with an estimated 2100 tonnes of plastics being trucked off to various landfills every day. In the wake of such a pressing situation, Hong Kong’s retail industry has, in some part, responded by trying to reduce the amount of packaging it uses and introducing a tariff on shopping bags. But there are some taking it a step further by refusing and removing unnecessary packaging altogether. With his boutique bulk grocery store Edgar, Raphaël De Ry is among those at the forefront of Hong Kong’s zero-waste movement, spearheading his vision of inspiring a greener and healthier lifestyle via his grocery startup in Kowloon.

Raphaël De Ry

Prior to first setting foot in Hong Kong about 10 years ago, Raphaël was just another cog in the garment-related industry, but he soon figured out that it was not the path for him. “When I started a family, I came to the realisation that I wasn’t going in a direction that truly gave me satisfaction. I knew that I wanted to find something that was more interesting and beneficial to the community,” explains the Swiss native. Wherever he looked, he was confounded by the lack of high-quality and reasonably-priced organic food in Hong Kong. It was at that moment that Raphaël saw an opportunity to venture into the wholesale and retail business of unpackaged, organic food buying and distribution, supplying these goods in bulk not only to locals, but also other Hong Kong retailers and restaurants. “Five years ago, there were only a few natural and organic food products to choose from. But as more people began to attach greater importance to its health benefits, demand started to grow. I want to provide Hong Kong with as many quality organic product options as possible, and with minimum impact on the environment.”

Raphaël De Ry

The result is Edgar, a Hong-Kong-based organic food distributor and concept store founded in December 2016 in the K11 art mall in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui. The charming store is located in a zone dedicated to promoting green concepts and features a stunning array of multicoloured products. Named after Raphaël’s favourite childhood grocery store, Edgar stocks over 100 types of natural and organic foodstuffs ranging from freeze-dried shiitake mushroom and organic pasta to a variety of nuts and biscuits, which fill up the 18 bulk bins installed up on the walls. From the sourcing of goods to logistics, and all the way up to the point of consumption, at Edgar the sustainability ethos is front and centre. While Raphaël does source products from countries such as France, Italy, and the Netherlands, where the standard for food quality is higher, he makes sure to collaborate with local businesses with a social dimension, such as Beeswaxcloth and NO!W No Waste.

Raphaël De Ry

By ridding goods of unnecessary packaging, Edgar is able to optimise shipping capacity at a lower cost, saving not just on transportation expenses, but also reducing his carbon footprint. Back in the shop, not only are customers encouraged to bring their own containers, they also get to do loads of taste tests. As Raphaël sees it, the concept of bulk-buying is a win-win for both businesses and customers. “Fundamentally, the point of having a bulk shop is to minimize the impact on the environment by reducing waste, streamlining the operation along the way. Leaving out packaging makes our products 25% cheaper than other organic products on the market. It also leaves the quantity purchased in the control of the customer. You don’t always need to buy 500g of pasta,” he laughs.

Still, educating consumers about these benefits has not been an entirely easy ride. “At the beginning, people would shy away from using the dispenser,” Raphaël recalls. “In Europe, shoppers are more used to the ‘do-it-yourself’ business model. In Hong Kong, it takes a little bit of time for people to adapt.” Despite the challenges, Raphael reckons that China’s ban on the import of a total 24 types of solid waste, ranging from household plastic wastes to unsorted paper, effective on the 1st of January 2018, as well as the future waste charges coming into Hong Kong in 2019 will both act as catalysts for change. “Zero waste is progressively becoming a major flagship,” he declares. “It’ll go the same way as the plastic shopping bag. In the beginning, a lot of people felt like they were being punished by the 50 cent penalty, but in the end, they started to bring their own bags.”

For now, spreading his mantra of zero-waste across local communities is at the top of Raphaël’s list of priorities. Following the opening of his second store in Sha Tin, he is set to have his third store stationed on Moon Street in Wan Chai by the end of the month. Envisioning Edgar as a real agent of change, Raphaël hopes to develop the store into an educational platform. “Our site in Wanchai won’t be just like a commercial space. We’re going to also host workshops where shoppers can exchange and learn different things. We want to have interaction with customers.’ Only then, when consumers consider their buying habits in a new light, will it be possible to effect change on a much wider scale than achieved thus far and Rapahël become close to achieving his aims.

Shop 201, K11 Natural, Level 2, K11 Art Mall, 18 Hanoi Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong