The CHOMP movement:
how an app is making sustainable living more accessible in Hong Kong
In a compact city like Hong Kong, having a sustainable waste management infrastructure is of vital importance. With the Hong Kong Government’s commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, community buy-in for waste reduction and recycling is more important than ever. Carla Martinesi, CEO and Co-Founder of CHOMP, is helping local businesses and consumers do their part to ‘green’ our waste problem.
Founded in mid 2021 during the pandemic, CHOMP is a waste-saving app designed as a marketplace for businesses that would otherwise have to throw away short shelf life products.
Right place, right time
Carla grew up in Switzerland in a Swiss-Chinese household. After finishing hospitality school and working in Europe for two years, in 2019, Carla decided to rediscover her roots and move to Hong Kong.
Having grown up in a country renowned for its state-of-the-art waste management system, Carla noted the lack of recycling and food waste infrastructure in Hong Kong – especially in the hospitality sector. With pandemic restrictions leading to layoffs, pay cuts and restaurant closures, she decided to take action.
“Restaurants were closing because people weren’t coming. A lot of my friends were being let go, and all the food was going to waste – sent to landfill.” Seeing the need for a more sustainable solution, Carla felt inspired to not only try and support her friends, but make a tangible impact on food waste in Hong Kong. After a year of market research, CHOMP was born.
A helping hand in unfamiliar territory
When launching a business or introducing a new product to the market, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done. As Carla discovered early on in her entrepreneurial journey, sometimes, you just need to ask for help.
“I didn’t even know where to start. You often hear about startups that have already launched and are doing really well, but you never hear about the ones that are still getting started.”
Giving themselves a year to get things off the ground, Carla and her co-founder were surprised by the sheer number of funding and support systems available to them in Hong Kong. “Invest Hong Kong connected us with a lot of people,” said Carla. “They told us about government grants and accelerator programmes; we were part of Impact Kommons, a four-month startup accelerator which was an incredible experience. We also received a grant from Cyberport, who were amazing – they really helped us bring our ideas to life.”
Carla is very impressed by Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem. “There are so many opportunities for not just funding, but ongoing expansion support.”
Reducing waste and cutting carbon, one bite at a time
Moving from the rolling green hills of Switzerland to the glittering skyscrapers of Hong Kong was always going to be a bit of a cultural shock, and although Carla feels like she’s found a happy medium, there are some aspects of sustainability she refuses to compromise on.
“I wanted every part of my business to be as sustainable as possible. If it was anything different from my own values, I couldn’t do it. We recently got asked to do delivery – obviously, this would bring in more users, but if you calculate the carbon emission of deliveries on motorcycles, it totally exceeded what would otherwise have been cut by ordering via CHOMP in the first place. I said no. Like any impact-driven startup, it’s really difficult at times to stay sustainable, but it’s worth it.”
From the very beginning, CHOMP’s vendors and consumers have been fully on board with the brand’s sustainable mission. In August 2021, during their soft launch, 20 restaurants and 200 customers signed up. Fast forward to today, there are 115 business partners and over 4,500 users on the app. From bakery items to salads, hot sauce to craft beer, skincare to cleaning products and so much more, CHOMP users can purchase and pick up items all over Hong Kong at a minimum discount of 25%. Cutting carbon emissions and saving waste from landfill has never been so lucrative; this element of convenience, Carla says, has been key to her startup’s success.
“In Hong Kong, there’s this idea that being sustainable costs a lot of money or is really time-consuming, or you have to be super perfect at it. This turns people off instantly. So, to have a solution like an app, where you can just order food and know that you’re doing a good deed by saving surplus product from landfill – that’s a huge win.”
Advice for new entrepreneurs and startups:
“When I first started, I thought being an entrepreneur or startup founder meant that you had to know every single thing about running a business – down to the smallest detail. It would have saved me so much time if I had just admitted that I needed help. If you don’t know how to do something, or you don’t know where to begin, it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to start small.”
– Carla Martinesi, CEO and Co-Founder of CHOMP