These past few years has seen a surge in the zero waste movement. Brought on by activists like Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home, Celia Ristow of Litterless, and our hometown heroes, no-waste markets have been popping up all over the country. In European cities like Berlin, Barcelona and Vienna, ethically-minded store owners are trying to change how we shop by curating aesthetically sophisticated shops and markets that focuses on anti-packaging, reinventing the look of bulk shopping, and getting the public interested in the environment. In the US, Lauren Singer of Trash Is For Tossers teamed up with Daniel Silverstein from Zero Waste Daniel (and finalist on NBC’s Fashion Star) to start Package Free, a Zero Waste pop up shop in Brooklyn that offers just about everything New Yorkers would need to transition to a low waste lifestyle. My beloved neighborhood Whole Foods Market, where I was first introduced to the concept of bulk shopping, always stations a friendly team member manning the bins to give the uninitiated a quick tour and overview of the bulk department. The trend has now landed in Asia’s World City: welcome to K-11’s Edgar.
On a recent stroll through K11 Natural Zone in Tsim Sha Tsui, I spy a wooden kiosk right out front loaded with large glass jars filled with a dizzying array of colorful foods. I see cookies and nuts and what looks like dried mushrooms. Intrigued, I step in for a closer look, and the lovely staffer with a warm smile kindly offers me a sample of said fungi. It’s dry, crunchy, salty and sweet all at once – the perfect snack food! What is this yummy goodness?! Sensing my exhilaration, founder Raphaël De Ry tells me it’s a freeze-dried shiitake mushroom. “It’s remarkable because freeze-drying causes no damage to the nutrition of the food being preserved,” he explains. “The process preserves the taste, color and nutritional value.” He also goes on to describe how hikers and backpackers come to stock up on the shiitake and oyster mushroom selection as they’re very light and easy to transport than their whole form. And if you add a bit of water, they will rehydrate and revert back to their original shape, texture, and taste. With stars in my eyes, I follow Raphaël through K11’s beautiful 9,000 square-foot space filled with small local and international artisanal, natural brands to Edgar, a boutique bulk grocery shop advocating a no-waste approach. With bins filled with an assortment of organic dried pantry goods (think red rice, lentils, pasta, muesli, seeds, nuts, and biscuits) and health snacks (lots of freeze-dried veggies and gluten-free crackers), Edgar offers customers a two-fold incentive: reasonably priced healthy groceries and snacks and the added plus of doing your part to reduce your carbon footprint. As I gaze up at the bins, I am astounded by how fun this shopping experience is! So colorful and so visual: I feel hungry just staring at the many available options. My eyes settle on the freeze-dried okra as Raphaël walks through the story of how Edgar came to be.
“I became a Dad seven years ago and realized I could not get the best foods for my daughter. Organic awareness was still low, and I began importing quality brands to Hong Kong,” recalls the Swiss. “With a focus on organic food products and my eco-conscious nature, I saw an opportunity for bulk products. The benefits of it – less waste, an efficient operation, choice of quality, freshness – was striking! We partnered with the best distributor of bulk dispensers (who also supplies and operates bins in US-based retailers Whole Foods and Target) to offer these dispensers to the Hong Kong market, but to no avail; no one wanted to buy them. It was discouraging to say the least. But then during a trade show, Benson Lau, a leasing manager from K11 Art Mall, saw the potential of our solutions and wanted to include us in his latest project, which was K11 Natural. Their concept was in line with our values and we jumped in. In turn, we became our first customer and the reception has been amazing.”
I am mesmerized. For a typical Hong Kong space – which we all know is small – Edgar manages to evoke an open, welcoming atmosphere full of style and charm. Shelves of jars loaded with more freeze dried snacks, dark chocolates, organic loose leaf teas and a plethora of gluten-free pastas, and organic products from France abound. Customers are encouraged to bring in their own containers or reusable produce bags. By offering bulk items, Edgar cuts down on packaging waste and allows for the consumer to save more over the cost of buying the same item prepackaged. In a corner, zero waste solutions items like stainless steel or glass straws and stirrers are neatly stacked next to an array of colorful low waste accessories. I all but keel over from excitement.
Noting a steady stream of local patrons learning to embrace a greener lifestyle by coming in with their reusable bags ready to be serviced, Raphaël delights at the most popular snacks in store. “People love the mushrooms and the pumpkin seeds coated with milk chocolate,” he says. “We also have to refill the mixed nuts quite a bit.” Barely 10-months in, Raphaël has gauged a better picture of Edgar’s demand from customers. Look out for more food options and perhaps more customization on the horizon so that everyone can find a fit to their (zero waste) taste! We can’t wait to see what’s in store.
Shop 201, Level 2, K11 Art Mall, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, +852 3101 3030, email@example.com. Open Monday – Sunday from 10:30AM – 9:30PM.
June 2018 Update: Edgar has now opened a second shop at 5 Moon Street, Wan Chai.
All photos courtesy of Green Queen.