It wasn’t long ago that we came across a local startup making and delivering salads and sandwiches around the South of Chengdu and to the Tianfu Software Park. Authentic western salads with high quality ingredients aren’t easy to find in Chengdu, so we were immediately interested. Below is an interview with co-proprietor Pernille Paulson about her fledgling business.
Chengdu Living: Who are you, and what brings you to Chengdu?
I jokingly refer to myself as luxury imported goods from South Korea. I am adopted from South Korea and grew up in Denmark.
I first came to China in the fall of 2012 to take on a job in Beijing. By the time I had been living there for 3 years I wanted to experience a new and different part of China. At the same time I was fortunate to have the opportunity to start studying Chinese and felt that it would also be conducive for my language studies to get out of Beijing.
It was quite natural for me to look towards Chengdu. In Beijing I had become good friends with two Chengdu natives who had taken me to this city a couple of times, which was always a really great experience.
Chengdu Living: What is Green Food?
Green Food is a salad and sandwich start-up whose mission is to produce and deliver fresh, tasty, high-quality homemade food to our customers.
Chengdu Living: Where did you get the idea to pursue this business?
My initial reason for moving to Chengdu was to study Chinese for a semester. However since I used to have what I call a small Dutch style pancake hobby catering company in Beijing and also helped a friend launch a craft sausage start-up, I always intended to scope out the market here while studying with the aim of hopefully finding opportunities to start a food business.
Luck or destiny would have it that I ran into my current business partner Ella who is a Sichuan native from Yaan (??). We actually already knew each other from the international craft scene scene in Beijing. Ella was a bar manager in one of Beijing’s craft beer breweries and additionally worked in a Moroccan rummery and sports bar.
Ella had moved back to Sichuan after living in Beijing for 6 years and was also looking into opportunities to start a food business in Chengdu. Since we were both planning to launch food businesses we decided to join forces to establish and grow Green Food together.
The idea of doing Green Food came about simply from the shear fact that there still to this day are very few options for salad and sandwich delivery in Chengdu.
Chengdu Living: Before you did this, were you eating a lot of this type of food? What type of food, or restaurant, do you especially enjoy?
In general I try to avoid processed foods and sugars and also try to minimize my carb intake but without being religious about it. I enjoy what I would call real food and the best part of enjoying food is to share it in good company with good drinks.
If I were to pick any favorites I would narrow it down to Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian and Korean food and naturally Danish open face sandwiches.
Chengdu Living: Do you have a philosophy or mindset for creating or expanding the Green Food menu? If so, what is the criteria?
Taste, freshness and quality are at the core of our product and service offering at Green Food. We are careful and matriculate in our handling of ingredients and we strive to be consistent, and reliable. Of course there is no use of MSG and we make our own salad dressings and sandwich spreads.
Our current menu is fairly simple with an offering of four delicious sandwiches and five salads. We are happy about the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received so far from our customers about the taste experience.
We are currently updating our menu to include a “Mix your own salad” options. It allows our customers to customize their salads according to own preferences or dietary restrictions. So whether you are vegan, vegetarian, doing paleo or keto or simply want to feast on a salad with 10 ingredients you now have that option in our new menu.
Chengdu Living: Why is making a high-quality salad or sandwich in Chengdu so difficult?
I think that it is a mix of (in)convenience and cost which can make it difficult to make high-quality salads and sandwiches in Chengdu if it is that you want to make a salad which contains even just a few imported or hard to get products.
In places like Beijing and Shanghai you have supermarket chains that cater to expats in which you can find a very broad selection of imported brand name food items from all over the world so you can essentially find everything within one supermarket. The items might still be pricy which is also a question of high import tariffs but there is also more competition, which pushes prices down. I think the prices for imported food in Chengdu is definitely higher and there is less selection.
In regards to making sandwiches good bread can be hard to come by depending on which bread type it is your are after. Being Danish I prefer dark bread and have rarely come across really good dark bread.
Chengdu Living: Are any ingredients or materials especially difficult to source? What’s making Western food in China like?
As previously mentioned I think really good bread, depending how picky you are about the kind of bread you want, can be difficult to find.
Additionally finding good affordable organic ingredients is what I have encountered as another challenge. There are organic ingredients available in the market but they are exponentially more expensive than conventional ingredients. A jin (500 grams) of conventional pork is 10-12 rmb while I have been quoted everything from 45-60 rmb for a jin of organic pork. This is an example regarding meats and the price difference regarding vegetables is less extreme.
Chengdu Living: Is your Danish background, or your experience in Beijing, reflected in the food you make? Are they any regional influences?
There is not any explicit Danish influence in the food that we are currently offering but is certainly something which is in the pipeline.
In regards to the experiences Ella and I have made in Beijing we were fortunate to be part of a booming international craft scene and work with and for some really great entrepreneurs from whom we have learned a lot. We try to apply our experiences in all aspects of how we operate from the daily management, to our social media presence and pro-activeness about collaborating and creating events with other companies.
There is definitely a regional influence to our food. We want to make tasty salads and sandwiches with a local touch. So therefore we for example add lajiao you (spicy Sichuan oil) to one of our sandwich spreads. There are also numerous great local spices and oils and ingredients such as tofu and the Yunnan goat cheese reminiscent of halloumi which we are currently working on also incorporating in our menu.
Chengdu Living: How do Chengdu locals see salads and sandwiches – is it a difficult sell? If so, why?
It is my impression that salads are not perceived by Chinese people to be full, or fulfilling meal. Lettuce based salads are also cold and people here are used to eating warm lunch. I think sandwiches are more commonly known but probably seen more as a snack than a meal.
However, I think Chengduers are quite curious and open to try new types of food. There is definitely also a growing awareness about eating healthily and getting and staying fit. Both from the perspective of losing weight and looking good but also just to feel good and have more energy. More people join gyms and pursue an active and healthy lifestyle where sports and eating healthily are complementary.
I think Sichuanese food is delicious but it is also spicy, salty and oily and can be quite heavy. I think both our foreign customers as well as local customers appreciate being able to opt for lighter option such as a salad or a sandwich.
Then there is also the whole aspect of food safety in China or lack thereof I should say which is a concern for locals and foreigners. I think our emphasis on quality and our transparent communication with our customers works to our advantage in regards to sales and customer retention. Living healthily and being concerned about food safety also ultimately ties together into a greater concern about sustainability and in China particularly environmental sustainability.
Chengdu Living: What do you envision the future of Green Food looking like? What are your hopes for the business?
We have started out pursuing a low cost low risk approach operating from a small kitchen studio and trying to organically grow the business.
It is our hope that we can grow our business and later move to a bigger location where we can offer dine in while simultaneously continue to grow the delivery aspect of the business.
Additionally I would like to see us create a product and service offering and a brand that people associate with fresh, tasty, high quality homemade food and perceive as being a sustainable and green, innovative and trustworthy.
Chengdu Living: Where can people find you, or order from you?
We are currently operating out of a small kitchen studio inside a hotel in the Blue Caribbean complex. We only do delivery for now and use the kitchen space for cooking and meetings etc.
We do same day delivery within proximity of the our kitchen studio. For delivery further away outside of the second ring we kindly ask customers to pre-order before 9pm the day before.
We are now doing daily pre-ordered delivery down to the software park so that gives you an idea of the range we can cover within Chengdu.
Map & WeChat QR Code for Green Food:
Note: this is not a sponsored post, we just legitimately love what Green Food is doing. If you have any thoughts, leave them in the comments below!