Fresh vegetable and fruit salads are rich in nutrients, but the taste can be bland and the grass-like flavour of some salad leaves is not acceptable to everyone.
Responding to this pain point, Hong Kong-based food technology start-up Allklear Health developed Future Salad, a healthy and delicious instant drink made from fruits and vegetables. In addition to producing a nutritious food item, the company’s production dynamics reduce carbon dioxide emissions and integrate sustainable development concepts.
The start-up is deploying social media-driven marketing innovations such as key opinion leaders (KOLs – main picture) and micro-influencers, boosting product sales and drawing a favourable response from strategic investors. Allklear plans to gradually expand its market into countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan and Korea – and hopes to list in Hong Kong as a unicorn in 2026.
Allklear was among the 10 winning start-ups in the Hong Kong Trade Development Council's (HKTDC) Start-up Express entrepreneurship programme this year, and is also taking part in the HKTDC Food Expo, where it will invite a number of KOLs to serve as store managers, in turn expanding its customer base to an online-to-offline (O2O) format.
The six Allklear founders came up with the salad drink concept following a shared meal experience five years ago. Angus Au, Chief Marketing Officer and one of the founders, said: “We all like outdoor activities and study health. Once we went to eat together after hiking, and no one would eat the salad with the meal, so we joked and suggested that it is better to ‘drink’ it."
The joke prompted them to consider the feasibility of drinking salad, and the group formed a team with researchers and nutritionists to develop a ready-to-drink vegan salad powder. Mr Au admitted the most difficult thing in the research and development process was the flavour, and it took the team a year to achieve a satisfactory taste.
Future Salad was launched in 2020 as a convenient, hygienic, delicious, healthy, environmentally friendly and affordable high-fibre drink.
The group's factory in Tai Po Industrial Estate produces salad drinks using ice crystal sublimation drying technology. The team first collected vegetables and fruits from all over the world, froze to between minus 36°C and minus 41°C, which freezes water in the plant material. The frozen material then goes into a vacuum chamber, sublimating the ice into water vapour. This freeze drying removes more than 98% of the water and protects the nutrients since there is no heat treatment. Finally, a spray gun turns the ingredients into powder which is then packaged and sold – all the consumers need to do is mix the powder with boiling water to obtain a high-fibre salad drink.
Mr Au said Future Salad hopes to redefine the word “salad” and use technology to reduce the carbon emissions generated by the transport, refrigerator storage, plastic utensils and tableware used for traditional salads as well as save costs and improve the shelf life of salad, reducing food waste.
"We hope to promote sustainable development and, at the same time, through strict selection of food sources, we ensure that the heavy metal and pesticide residue levels in fruit and vegetables meet our standards." The brand has obtained SGS certification, Hong Kong's STC quality seal, Halal certification, vegan certification and Hong Kong Good Manufacturing Programme (GMP) assurance.
Future Salad already sells more than one million packs a year in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and Thailand, but there is still ample room for development. The firm strengthened its social media presence a year ago, entering into cooperation with KOLs and micro-influencers to boost sales. Brand and product awareness and exposure increased sharply.
Co-founder and Director of Business Development Daniel Zhu said social media use grew during the COVID-19 pandemic as many people were confined to their homes. Brands reacted by attracting KOLs as customers, hoping to tap into their fan bases through their social platforms.
Future Salad currently works with nearly 12,000 Hong Kong KOLs and micro-influencers, generating more than 200 million exposures on social media and driving 40% of online sales. The brand also has more than 40 offline sales channels including Watsons, City'super, Eslite Bookstore and YATA.
The company opened two physical stores – in the Lippo Centre in Admiralty and Times Square in Causeway Bay – early last month, hoping to reach more consumers at different levels. Mr Zhu said: “During the epidemic, the rent is lower than before, which reduces the cost of opening a physical store. In addition to selling products, the physical store can also provide KOLs with ‘check-in’ points and receive free gifts, allowing us to save on express transportation costs.”
Mr Au said Allklear completed Pre-A strategic financing last year and received nearly HK$10 million (US$1.27 million) in investment from venture capitalists such as Gobi and Vectr. This funding is being used for research and development, opening up new markets and operating bricks-and-mortar stores.
"We are currently developing new salad cookies and a banana or peach salad drink specially for children,” he said. “We plan to enter the American and Canadian markets this year and open a production line in the United States. Next year, we will target the Japanese and Korean markets.”
The brand is also actively expanding into the business-to-business market and is now in contact with a number of banks, real estate developers and logistics companies to provide their employees with alternative beverages, or to include in corporate gift sets.
Mr Zhu said the company will take on new staff in areas such as communications, marketing and digital marketing. The scale will gradually increase from the current team of 30 people to 50 in the middle of next year. "We are also studying the feasibility of setting up a factory in Taiwan to expand production capacity to meet the needs of overseas and Taiwan markets, respectively, and reduce transport costs."
Allklear joined the HKTDC Start-up Express entrepreneurship development programme and became one of the 10 winners. Mr Au said: "We took this opportunity to test our brand. This competition let us contact other start-ups to explore cooperation opportunities. We also hope to increase exposure and obtain support for exploring new markets. With the help of the HKTDC, we can reduce the number of mishaps."
The brand will also participate in the HKTDC Food Expo 2022 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 11 to 15 August, inviting a number of KOLs to be store managers in turn, and distributing gifts on the spot to expand online and offline in an all-round way.