The Agenda / Global
How “Hog Kong” became a test bed for porkless pork. Plus: Glasgow’s moment to shine.
F&B –– Hong Kong
People like pork in Hong Kong. They really, really like pork. When the UN conducted a study into who eats the most oinkers, Hong Kongers took the bacon with the highest rate of pork consumption per capita in the world – they each eat an average of 59kg a year, while Americans, the second-largest consumers, scoff 30kg. So when US firm Impossible Foods launched its new meat substitute, Impossible Pork, in October, it knew where to head (even though it had first held a marketing amuse-bouche at David Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm bar in New York).
The company has since signed up more than 100 restaurants in Hong Kong, ranging from Michelin-starred dim sum joint Tim Ho Wan to fast-food chains and Japanese katsu outlets. The firm aims to find out whether the city’s pork aficionados will go for its soy-based imitation. And there’s a lot at stake: the international market for these substitutes is now worth $21bn (€18bn).
Getting Hong Kongers on board would be an important step for Impossible Foods, which is reportedly considering going public through an ipo in the near future, aiming for a listing valuing it around $10bn (€8.5bn). It also hopes to expand its vegetable-based offerings into mainland China, which is among the world’s biggest consumers of processed meat per capita. The company has already announced that it intends to launch in Singapore over the coming weeks.
In a bid to win over porkless-pork sceptics in Hong Kong, where many associate so-called mock meat with the strictly vegetarian diet of devout Buddhists, Impossible also established a pop-up to offer free Impossible Pork tacos, fried buns and even scotch eggs (whose fillings came from chickens – the plant-based version hasn’t been cracked yet). But there are some competitors in the region to contend with. These include Hong Kong’s Omnifoods, which launched a now popular plant-based pork back in 2018.
Apart from diners, there should be other winners in all this too. Swapping piggy pork for a vegetarian reproduction could be good news for the climate. According to Impossible Foods, its faux pork produces up to 77 per cent less in greenhouse gas emissions than the animal alternative. And, of course, the hogs of the world will also be breathing a sigh of relief if this all goes to plan.
Seizing the day
The Scottish city of Glasgow is gearing up to host the cop26 UN climate summit in November. It’s a two-week meeting that’s not only a chance for world leaders to raise their countries’ games in the global effort to confront climate change globally but for Glasgow to showcase how a city can respond to the crisis in its own right. It’s also a time when a host city can appeal for cash; just ahead of the summit, Glasgow released a £30bn (€35bn) “greenprint” plan for investment to help reach its rather ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Where could this money come from? The city is hoping for a mixture of private and public investment, including, potentially, guilting Westminster into contributing after a parliamentary committee report recently found that institutional foreign investment in the UK is overly geared towards London and the Southeast.
Glasgow also intends to sell private companies on the city’s makeover plans, which include an advanced manufacturing innovation district that has attracted the likes of Boeing, and a micro park to attract clothes-makers by cutting down on the carbon footprint that comes with manufacturing abroad. There are also hopes for a new subway, an experimental waste-to-heating project, money for research institutions and the planting of 18 million new trees. About a third of the funds would go to retrofitting nearly half a million homes.
Many cities around the world have taken the lead in tackling climate change over the past decade but they can’t do it without help. Glasgow’s aim over the month of November will be to shine a light on the huge amount of investment that it takes for major urban centres to become cleaner and greener. Why not grab the international community’s attention while you have the chance?
homeware ––– japan
Founded in 2003, innovative Tokyo-based brand Balmuda is causing a revolution in the Japanese kaden (home appliance) market with products that are both functional and desirable. The first big hit by the company’s founder and chief designer Gen Terao was The Toaster. It does its job so well that it has been flying off shelves despite the hefty price tag of more than ¥20,000 (€155).
Now, six years in the making, Balmuda’s latest product is The Brew, a sleek, matte-black drip-coffee maker. Unlike other such devices, there’s no grinding function as Balmuda instead developed new technologies. The machine works out the precise amount of every drip of water required to safeguard the subtle aromas and tastes of the beans. Sensors control both the brewing time and water temperature. Orders for the ¥59,400 (€460) unit rushed in, creating a month-long wait for this contemporary caffeine fix.
Ideas of substance
The issue of ocean plastics has received plenty of public attention lately. In France, one technology company is looking to tackle the issue further up the chain by stopping microplastics getting into the water system – and investors are all ears.
Paris-based Calyxia, founded in 2015, is developing biodegradable microcapsules for use in domestic and agricultural settings and technology to make materials more durable, targeting the electronics and automotive industries. With the EU expected to further clamp down on microplastics in the coming years, the timing is auspicious. Calyxia has raised €15m in its first major funding round, bringing the total to €23m. Co-founder and ceo Jamie Walters stresses that the microplastics fight is a “collective effort” but believes the company can reduce their usage tenfold, saying, “This is just the beginning.”
Founder and CEO, The Postcard Hotels & Resorts
Kapil Chopra is founder of fast-growing Indian boutique hotel brand The Postcard Hotels & Resorts. He wants to build 50 hotels globally, each with 50 rooms or less, by 2023.
What’s your strategy?
Affluent Indians are now spending just as much as foreigners, so why not build for this consumer? Our aim is to open destinations and be cognisant of profitability. We will not open a hotel unless there’s money to be made and we currently have 17 projects in stages of development.
How do you differentiate your brand from others?
By disrupting the norm. We have no standard check-in or check-out times. We support local and artisanal businesses and, where possible, serve organic food and drink. Also, the entire top management owns a part of the company, so we all have skin in the game.
Instead of operators managing hotels, you share the revenue with owners. Isn’t that expensive?
It means we can build quickly, operate efficiently and focus on consumer satisfaction. We don’t want to make money off cancellation fees; we would rather earn your loyalty instead. Our model helped us to avoid layoffs when other hotels were being closed and, despite the lockdowns, revenue grew by 51 per cent in 2020.
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Whether it was a start-up seeking investment or a brand’s annual report, you were pretty much guaranteed to come across the “D” word in any presentation from the past 10 years. “Disruption” was uttered as though the person saying it was casting a strategic magic spell. The audience would nod in a solemn fellowship of communal business understanding but the disruption being touted was often loosely defined. You have to go back to the 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M Christensen to understand when the term gained momentum. Christensen coined the phrase “innovative disruption” to describe selling a cheaper or lower-quality product to people already within a category. These products were targeted at less-profitable customer segments, with a hope that they would become popular enough to dominate said category. In time this narrow definition was lost and became shorthand for supposedly paradigm-shifting innovation.
Blame Silicon Valley: its view of disruption promised an unprecedented redefinition of consumer products and services. And when the likes of Uber and Airbnb upended their respective categories, they were the pinnacle of this new definition.
For a period, almost everything was in the midst of full-on disruption. The direct-to-consumer market was an especially big fan of elevating it to near life-changing transcendence. Nothing escaped Big Disruption Energy – your mattress, vitamins, relationships, pet food and sex toys.
Then in 2020 the pandemic brought disruption to work, travel, health care and social interaction. It was not the innovative kind either: this was the less fun version. It was certainly paradigm-shifting but no one wanted these paradigms to shift.
So will we now need a different way to talk about innovation? One that is more clearly defined and less headline-grabbing? As uncertainty lingers in the second half of 2021, what language will resonate with entrepreneurs, investors and customers?
The desire to evolve products and services and create new categories will not go away. The effects of the pandemic might include some positive legacies as many brands learn to think differently. So don’t get too settled just yet: that disruption-speak might yet have a renaissance.
About the writer: Tippins works in brand and advertising strategy.
Images: Alamy, Balmuda. illustrator: Kyle Metcalf