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Interview with Jou Sun Founder Jessica Lam: Making local produce easily accessible


By Arthur Tam

Although Tong Chong Street Market (TCSM) has expanded over the years to reflect a range of Hong Kong’s culinary innovators, its core aim has always been to advocate sustainable practices in everyday life. By bringing in local farms to sell a great variety of fresh, local organic produce at TCSM, the Market promotes the culture to eat local and thereby offsetting the carbon footprint caused by imports.

To expand on this, Swire Properties has for the first time collaborated with Jou Sun – a farmers’ market delivery service – to make it even more convenient for people to access produce from TCSM through the Jou Sun website. We talk to Jessica Lam, co-founder of Jou Sun, about her involvement with TCSM and how she envisions a day when sustainable, honest food is widely accessible to everyone.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with TCSM?

Jou Sun and Swire Properties share the common belief of advocating sustainability and inspiring changes through food education. We understand that people may not always have time to visit the market on a Sunday, so we decided to work with Swire Properties and help deliver the TCSM local produce to the health-conscious community.

Tell us about Jou Sun. How does it work?

When the customer places an order on Jou Sun, they are placing their order directly with the farmer. The farmers get real time orders so they can see where the customer is based and pack according to their specifications; on average, a customer tends to order from five different vendors. Our partner delivery service will then travel to 11 pickup points, consolidate the orders and sort everything to be delivered to the customer. If you order before midnight the night before, your groceries will be with you the following afternoon.

How often do you update your site with seasonal produce?
If you visit our website and look at our local veggie and fruit section, you’ll see that it changes about every two days. Our vendors are really good at updating us with what’s fresh and in season.

How did you come up with the name?
It comes from the Cantonese phrase meaning ‘good morning’, which ties in with the experience of getting up early to go to a wet market.

Why did you start Jou Sun?

Buying food online in Hong Kong makes a lot of sense. High retail rents drive a high mark up on food, as supermarkets have to add an additional cost to account for the roughly 30 percent of produce that isn’t sold and therefore thrown out. My team and I started Jou Sun to cut out the middleman and reduce prices for the customer.

We provide an on-demand service, which also reduces waste. For example, if you order 10 ears of local corn today, the farmer will only harvest 10, preventing over-harvesting. But if you’re a supermarket you tend to over order because you don’t want to run out of stock or end up with empty shelves. That’s often how a lot of food waste begins.

We soon realised transparency was an important factor for customers, too. They want to know where their food comes from. On Jou Sun you can find out where produce is sourced and check that the vendor has a registered organic licence. This is becoming increasingly important to people – especially those with children.

Why is that?
You always hear parents saying that while the occasional treat of fast food is fine, it’s really important for children to have plenty of organic fruit and vegetables. I think parents are much more careful these days about healthy diets and lots of our clients are families.

Can you elaborate more on the sustainability aspect of your business?
We always offer local, organic, sustainable options where possible. More than 95 percent of Hong Kong’s food is imported, but the ratio on our website is much lower. Out of the 33 food vendors we work with, 10 of them are from Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong government recently started a programme which credits fisheries that can verify they don’t use certain antibiotics and hormones. We stock fish from these certified fisheries; fish comes with a special QR code tag that tells customers where it has been farmed. We also source chicken from a local farm, and we are in talks with a local pig farm, too.

How do you scrutinise the vendors you work with to make sure they are honest?
In the previous industry I worked in I learnt the importance of talking to people to find out if they’d be honest and reliable to work with. I’ve tried to employ a similar process with Jou Sun when it comes to picking vendors because if someone wants to cut corners. Besides having the proper paperwork, we try to understand why vendors started their business – the philosophy behind it and why it’s important to them. We also check the vendor’s facility. If it’s not up to scratch or the producer refuses to show us, we’ll turn them away. We understand the importance of quality for our customers.

What’s the grand plan for Jou Sun?
We want this to be a service that gets reliably sourced food to consumers. It’s encouraging for our team that we’ve doubled our business since last summer.

There needs to be greater flow of information and transparency when it comes to food. In the clothing industry, for example, people have made more of an effort to make sure ethical labour and environmentally friendly material is used in production. Now, there’s a greater international push for workers’ rights and sustainable manufacturing practices. In the food industry, however, it’s still a very localised movement.

I’d love to develop a tool where you can search for the best quality produce – a user-generated platform where people can contribute their thoughts about a supplier. I don’t see anyone building that platform yet, so I guess that’s a possibility for us!

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