Homegrown Foods (Linguini Fini) – Minimising Restaurant Waste

Linguini Fini vegetable pasta dish

Results & Impacts

  • Annual cost saving of HK$50,000 in single restaurant through waste reduction
  • Waste prevented includes 230,000 paper napkins, 130,000 plastic straws/stirrers, 45,000kg of garbage and 2,800 business cards
  • Positive publicity leads to competitive advantage and a loyal customer base, whilst saving advertising costs

Rationale

Hong Kong has a high waste footprint relative to other Asian cities at a similar stage of development. With more than 24,000 licensed food premises across the territory, the food and beverage (F&B) sector is a major contributor. Paper napkins and towels, plastic straws and stirrers and cardboard coasters are among the single-use, disposal items commonly used by restaurants, cafes and takeaways. Paper and plastics used across all sectors account for 39% of waste generated in Hong Kong.

At the same time, Hong Kong’s F&B sector is highly competitive and is being squeezed by rising costs, including rents. Homegrown Foods recognised that by reducing waste in their restaurants, they could achieve significant cost savings as a way to enhance their financial sustainability.

Key Aspects

Homegrown Foods began as an organic restaurant group in 2009 and launched a home delivery service for organic produce the following year. The group currently has three restaurants: Linguini Fini, Posto Pubblico and Stone Nullah Tavern. The relocation of Linguini Fini to a new flagship restaurant in 2014 provided an opportunity to build on the group’s environmental achievements to date. Aware of the large volumes of waste is generated in its sector, Homegrown Foods began discussions between senior managers and chefs to identify how they could minimise waste in the new restaurant.

Items such as napkins, straws and stirrers were replaced with reusable, durable alternatives; cocktail napkins were eliminated completely; paper menus were laminated to prolong their lifespan; plastic packaging was replaced with biodegradable alternatives, on a trial basis; and business cards were replaced by a plaque outside the restaurant for visitors to photograph. Making use of the new restaurant’s outdoor space, a composting machine was installed, allowing all food waste to be processed into compost, which can then be sold. That in turn has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of garbage bags used by the restaurant.

Partnership

To source reusable items, Homegrown Foods needed to establish new relationships with alternative suppliers. For example, since metal straws were not readily available in the marketplace, the company approached local craftsmen to create the products to its specification. Some prototyping was needed before the final product was agreed, and the unit cost was higher. However, ceasing the use of disposable straws quickly produced a financial payback. It also provided new business and additional income to a local, independent supplier.

Success Factors

“The non-waste approach saves me a lot of money. Why I think this is such a poignant story now in Hong Kong is because costs are rising so quickly, revenues are dropping – the market is being squeezed.”
– Todd Darling, Founder & Owner, Homegrown Foods

Despite operating in a highly competitive sector, Homegrown Foods’ waste reduction programme has proven viable due to the significant cost savings it generates. In total, the relocated Linguini Fini saved HK$60,000 in its first year through the new measures; as they are rolled out to the other restaurants this year, annual savings across the group are expected to top HK$150,000. In addition, communicating the environmental benefits externally helps to ensure a loyal customer base.

The programme is also popular with staff. As well as appealing to their values, having less waste to handle helps keep the restaurant tidy and makes it easier to manage. Not having to reorder disposable stock leaves more time to focus on the quality of the food.

Challenges

Finding a market for the compost produced at Linguini Fini has not been straightforward. Homegrown Foods’ organic farmers have been reluctant to use it due to issues related to requirements for organic certification. As an alternative, the company is planning to sell the compost to its restaurant customers for use in their home/balcony gardens. It is also approaching companies that could use it for commercial landscaping.

Mindful of the negative impacts of plastic waste in our oceans – and the fish that breed in them – Homegrown Foods aims to eliminate as much plastic as possible. However, switching to biodegradable takeaway containers has proven difficult. The containers failed to match plastic on quality and strength, leading to complaints from customers and a risk of losing business. The company therefore has gone back to using plastic containers until it is able to source a high-quality alternative that meets its requirements.