Small Farm, Big Ambitions: How Alvin Kwong Of Magic Organics Is Revolutionizing How You Get Your Veggies
For anyone who has ever stood in a supermarket in horrified contemplation of what happens to the mountains of unsold groceries, Magic Organics is a breath of fresh air. This small family-run company is on a mission to transform the traditional farm-to-table journey of fresh produce. Their sustainable business model sees customers ordering a selection of seasonal organic produce online and having it delivered directly to their doorstep within 24 hours. By cutting out the retail middleman from the supply chain and going straight to the consumer, they are enabling their produce to be delivered faster, fresher and with minimal food waste.
Founder Alvin Kwong is something of a revolutionary when it comes to running a business, believing that just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that it always has to be so. This attitude is very much a part of his personality, and is probably what helped him to adjust to life in Hong Kong after he moved here from Edmonton, Canada, at the age of 12.
It must have been something of a culture shock, adjusting from the suburban, outdoorsy lifestyle he had grown up with to suddenly be thrust into a great Asian metropolis, but he was nevertheless excited to be starting something new. This “try it and see” attitude is typical of Kwong. “I’m not a big planner, I’m always happy to just try things and see what happens”.
What happened was that his father’s job as a research scientist, working on the creation of a new type of crop fertiliser made from chicken manure, suddenly came to an end when his company scrapped the project due to lack of interest from the farming community at the time. “I think it was a concept that was ahead of its time”, says Kwong. “This was back in 2001, when organic farming wasn’t really a thing. We only saw the first organic farmers’ markets starting up around 2006”.
Despite the disappointment, his father continued his research at home and finally came up with a product that worked. When the fertiliser wouldn’t sell, Kwong’s parents set up their own small farm in the New Territories. His mother, Becky, loved working the land, and became a passionate farmer. Eventually, they expanded to a 60,000 square metre farm across the border in Qingyuan. High in the mountains, with fresh water and clean soil, they committed themselves to using production methods free from toxic chemicals and heavy metals. The farm was certified fully organic in 2012.
Over the past decade, this modest business model has witnessed a change of heart from the public. Demand for organic produce is now at an all-time high, and they have found themselves at the forefront of a new era in food production and delivery. The family now split their time between Qingyuan and Hong Kong, with Becky spending most of her time at the farm while her husband and son are largely based in Hong Kong. Before the current travel restrictions, Alvin visited his mother at the farm every month. “It’s a long drive, but when you finally get there, it’s really nice to be able to stand in the fields, surrounded by mountains, and breathe in the fresh air and silence. I forget when I’m away how peaceful it is.”
Like most of his generation, Kwong is passionate about the environment and social responsibility. He is determined that his company makes a positive impact on the environment and society, and since taking the helm of the business, he has put together an impressively sustainable production model.
Single-use plastic has been effectively cut from the Magic Organics delivery system through use of reusable delivery boxes and reverse logistics. He is also working closely with other local businesses and industries to come up with new solutions for old problems. His current favourite project is the use of off-cuts from local clothing factories near the farm to make vegetable delivery bags, further cutting plastic use. The fabric is coated with wax from nearby bee farms.
Long term, he has ambitious plans to introduce a fleet of solar-powered trucks for the journey from the farm to the distribution warehouse and from there to the Hong Kong drop off points. “By delivering to individual homes, we get the opportunity to pick up last week’s packaging for reuse, and can also use the pick up point to collect more recycling”.
Food waste is also dramatically reduced by utilizing a delivered-to-order model. Each day, the Magic Organics website is updated with the daily produce that is available, and customers have the 4 hours while the truck is in transit to place their orders, on a first come first served basis. Any food that is unsold at the end of the day is donated to Hong Kong social service agency St. James’ Settlement, ensuring all food goes to where it is needed, instead of to landfill.
This valuable combination of faster delivery of fresh organic produce, plastic-free packaging and elimination of food waste has enabled Magic Organics to create a devoted band of customers in Hong Kong. Kwong is now looking to scale the business up, and is looking for funding to help him do so. As the ordering process is not automated, data processing is hard, and he is working to rectify this. He is also looking for help with marketing, to build up awareness of the service that Magic Organics provides.
“Hong Kong people live busy lives,” he admits. “I think that’s why it has an awkward relationship with sustainability. We all want to play our part though. Magic Organics works because the system uses less, wastes less and efficiently delivers a better quality product. The more people who participate, the better the system will work.”
Despite the challenges that the pandemic has wrought, Kwong is optimistic about the future. “I’m generally a happy person and satisfied wherever I am, as long as I can live a comfortable life. That’s why I love Hong Kong; whatever you want to learn or do or make, you can find it here. You can do anything here!”
Alvin Kwong will be hosting a Lunch & Learn session at Banyan Workspace on 20th October to share more about his story and business model. To book a seat at the table, visit our What’s On page HERE