Growing up in Tai Po, John Lau had a lot of fun during his childhood in the goldfish and hamster shops of Tai Yuen Market, which was just opposite his primary school. His interest in animals continued during his university years, when he studied biotechnology in the United Kingdom. After graduation, he was assigned by a British firm to Shanghai to help the company expand to a new market. During this time, he gained solid business experience, which contributed to his future career path of eventually becoming the owner and operator of his own pig farming business.
John’s first entrepreneurial venture was breeding reptiles. Then, about six years ago, John took over a pig farm in Lau Fau Shan, New Territories from a retired farmer and founded the brand Hong Kong Heritage Pork to supply locally bred fresh pork to local people.
“Operating a pig farm in Hong Kong, especially in a modernised and scientific way, is like looking for an oasis in the desert, as the local agricultural industry has almost vanished,” John said. “For instance, pig feed recipes are usually kept within family-run farm businesses for generations, and supply chains of many raw materials and farm equipment are also broken.”
Luckily, with his experience and connections, John was able to recruit European veterinarians and invite his British university professors to be consultants for his farm. In addition, he purchased equipment from the Netherlands and Denmark, and adopted British feed formulas. More importantly, John’s younger brother, who is a civil engineer, offered great help in improving the farm’s environment, which in turn has improved the pork’s quality.
John said, "Hong Kong is very hot and humid in the summer. Mother pigs often have no appetite and do not want to breastfeed, and so their piglets have insufficient nutrition. Therefore, we work to provide our pigs with a good habitat and quality feed, which is crucial to producing quality pork. In addition, our pork samples are regularly sent to a third-party laboratory for food safety tests to boost consumer confidence."
Although John’s approach was somewhat amateurish when he first started his business, he is now fully devoted to the fresh pork business. Hong Kong Heritage Pork currently breeds and raises its own pigs with three pig farms in the New Territories and more farms to come. Meanwhile, it distributes its own fresh pork to more than 20 retail outlets in Hong Kong, including Tai Yuen Market – the same market where John spent lots of time during his childhood exploring the goldfish and hamster shops.
"We came to Tai Yuen Market at the early stage of our business,” he recalled. “One of the advantages of Link’s fresh markets is the well-mixed combination of stalls and their strategic placement, which enables a wide range of merchants to do business in a single place. Thanks to word of mouth in the neighbourhood, we have gradually been building our brand and business. Our overriding goal is to produce locally bred, high-quality fresh pork for local people at an affordable price.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of online shops selling frozen meat has grown rapidly, but John believes that for fresh ingredients, brick and mortar shops are irreplaceable.
"It’s always preferable to see and touch ingredients physically to check their freshness – this obviously can’t be done when buying online,” he noted. “Savvy shoppers know that fresh pork is sticky when you press it, and it shows slightly variegated colours under the light. This tactile shopping experience, where you can see and feel what you’re buying, is an important part of our fresh market culture."
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