The Key to Growing Organic Business Amid Pandemic: Integrity, Expertise, Tenacity, Agility
In response to the 2-year-long pandemic crisis, Hong Kong consumers have been prioritsing their health concerns and keen to spend more money on the organic and natural foodstuff to boost immunity. For this reason, the 24-year-old Health Aims Organic Functional Food Specialty Shop (Health Aims) has enjoyed more than 10% business growth over the past 2 years. Committed to ethical practice and eyed on long term business, Duncan Ko, Managing Director and Founder of Health Aims, has kept the price of its local organic vegetables unchanged thanks to the stable supply, despite vegetable prices in market spike in previous weeks. This has brought credibility and transactions to the company.
Solidarity and Integrity in Adversity
Knowing that FarmFest 2022 was cancelled because of the outbreak at the beginning of 2022, Duncan was approached by Hong Kong Organic Resources Centre to help sell off hundreds of kilograms of local organic agricultural produce to reduce wastage. To ensure freshness, Health Aims used “Buy Online, Pick Up in Store”(BOPIS) model so that customers would receive order confirmation and pick-up notice before collecting their purchases in store. Besides boosting local agricultural sales by 6 times from 100 catty to 600 catty per week, the BOPIS model effectively drove traffic to store for additional purchase. This in turn builds up a win-win ecosystem that paves the way to new fresh foods business for the company.
Due to price and others factors, organic food market in Hong Kong was not popular, but Duncan believes this is going to change. “The onset of pandemic has sparked off a group of consumers with higher purchasing power to pay more for quality organic vegetables and fruits. They prioritise products functions and applicability more than price, that’s why we pay special attention to staff product expertise and offer routine training, so our consultant can offer appropriate healthcare and wellness advice that meets customers’ needs.”
Reaching Customers with Professionalism and Care
Health Aims also provides various health tips to its 50,000 members, detailing the products’ relevance, effects and use directions. The company set up interactive sessions to listen consumers’ needs as well. These caring measures has scored recognition of “Caring Company” by GS1 HK for 9 consecutive years.
“Some customers had asked if our products were good for fighting against cancer or other serious illnesses, we would urge them to consult doctors instead and never encourage purchase just for our sales. I believe integrity and staff expertise are the unique strengths that we are proud of.”
Enhancing Credibility, Authenticity, Safety with Tech
Information transparency is the key to building trust between consumers and organic food businesses. With 13 physical stores, Health Aims holds thousands of organic functional foods covering organic herbal juices, vegetable juices, tea, grocery and snacks. In addition to clear information label on every product, 80% of products obtain organic certification from different authorised bodies.
Apart from product functions and nutritional values, customers tend to examine the organic certification, source of origin and authenticity to ensure the foods are safe. In addition to showing organic certifications from overseas, Health Aims would use GS1 HK barcode (GTIN) during repacking its own-brand products to help consumers get reliable and rich product information.
As GS1 HK’s 1QR solution can register key product information like discounts, certification, track-and-trace and authentication information, Duncan believes it helps promote information transparency and thus consumers’ confidence.
Sizing up and Adjusting in Troubled Times for Transformation
The company plans to open new stores in Kowloon East, HK West and South and strengthen its online business once the contagion slows down. Having gone through stores closure due to social movement in 2019, as well as an increase in cost that caused 10% deficit in that year, Duncan has also experienced major disruptions since the virus outbreak - logistics blockages from US and EU that caused more than 6-month of order lead-time and so on, jeopardising operations a great deal in spite of rising demand for products.
“What we did is be agile, act fast and flexibly to everyday situations. The pick-and-pack centre has been understaffed lately because of confirmed cases, so we can only arrange shop staff to support order fulfillment. We have also been using technology to improve efficiency, for example adding new software and licenses for more crews to use at the same time to improve productivity.”
Duncan encourages fellow SMEs to take this crisis as an opportunity to evolve, “Companies usually meet headwind to changes in good times, because of staff reluctancy and rising costs; but in difficult times, there are greater determination and acceptance to change. Besides, as IT costs are lower today, digital and business overhaul can be done easily, so I think it’s prime time for business to implement transformation.”
Duncan feels discreetly optimistic of the company development, despite the tumult in operations caused by the raging pandemic. “As a leader, I have tried everything in my power to retain staff, beef up training and career prospect, provide security and sense of belonging for them. I just hope we will survive through this and grow stronger in future.”