Plant-based catering service the Green Platters have tapped into alternative income streams to survive the pandemic, says Helen Dalley
Life-long vegetarian Bhawna Shetty was inspired to set up The Green Platters several years ago after struggling to find healthy vegetarian catering options for her daughter’s birthday party. Introducing the food trend of grazing to Hong Kong, her colourful platters incorporate organic ingredients including bread, fruits, nuts, olives, hummus, hand-crafted vegan cheeses made from cashews and macadamias and dark chocolate. Served on a grazing table, areca leaf or in a biodegradable platter box, they present a delicious, guilt-free grazing option.
The company can prepare flat lay and layered tables alongside palm leaf platters and platter boxes for clients. Before the pandemic struck, tables were a big cash generator, says Shetty, with some clients ordering them twice a year. This year, snack boxes and platters have proved more popular. They are ordered as personal or corporate gifts, or for smaller gatherings like junk parties and management meetings, she says. It has worked with corporate clients to send out individual snack boxes to employees on World Mental Health Day, or just as a thank you to staff for their commitment during these difficult times, she adds.
Indeed, driven by overseas clients keen to show some appreciation to Hong Kong colleagues, or friends & family sending platter boxes from overseas, orders via its website have spiked. Some ask for flowers and a bottle of wine to be delivered with their platter, something Shetty is happy to organise. “When clients are trying to co-ordinate florists and wine, it can be a hassle for them, so we’re going that extra mile. We can do wine and flowers and pick those up at no extra charge to the client,” she says. This has led to more business, and the business owner is now keen to partner with a florist so she can better serve this new demand from customers.
Client feedback has resulted in the business selling items a la carte, with some keen to just buy dips, macarons or sandwiches. Some clients have requested the inclusion of plant-based meat onto their platters. While Shetty is open to the idea, she wants to present it in an innovative way. “I don’t want to have it as a meatball, or a burger.”
The entrepreneur says 90 per cent of its business comes from people having previously sampled its platters at an event. “Food is very word of mouth,” she says. With more than three years’ in business, the Green Platters remains a small, cohesive team. “My belief is that the more I remain connected, the more I’ll understand the challenges the business faces.” She admits that clients are sometimes surprised to see the founder hand-delivering their platter to an event, but she remains committed to keeping the operation small, running the business alongside two other team members.
With nearly a quarter of Hong Kongers practising flexitarianism to some degree according to a recent survey by local social venture model Green Monday, Shetty believes that the city is more open to plant-based food than ever before thanks to the visibility of plant-based brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. “In these past two years, there’s been a big shift. People have realised that plant-based food can taste amazing and people are more willing to give it a try,” she observes. The entrepreneur also notes that many Hong Kongers have put more focus on their health and eating well since the pandemic struck.
While a return to normal looks some way off, Shetty will continue to cater for small events and build up the platter box side of the business. “It will be a while before we’re taking orders for big events again – people are still wary – so we’re not forcing anything. Maybe we’ll be catering for up to 20, 30, or even 50, but we won’t be doing events for 100 guests anytime soon,” she predicts.
As for her ambitions for the Green Platters long-term, Shetty is keen to share her advice on being the ultimate host following the success of previous workshops on food styling and building platters. It would zoom in on practical details, like how popcorn doesn’t work on a platter as it goes soft, and that olives & cornichons should be kept apart from crackers and cheeses so they don’t make them soggy. The entrepreneur is keen to set up online and face-to-face workshops for corporate and private clients so hosts can make their platters look good enough for Pinterest.
Shetty remains driven by a passion to serve healthy, delicious, beautifully presented food to clients and rarely switches off. “If someone’s having a party, I always want to take something along.” thegreenplatters.com