Are you looking for an alternative way to invest, something that will appeal to your heart as well as your head? Henry Benjamin suggests you enrich your portfolio with fine wine and (hydroponically grown) lettuce.
Investing isn’t something most of us do for fun. There is, of course, the risk aspect that can make it a thrilling pursuit, but for the everyday investor playing the long game, it’s not exactly an edge-of-your-seat ride. But never fear, if shares, term deposits or extra mortgages aren’t your thing, or if you are looking to spice up an established investment portfolio, your options may be more varied than you think. Have you ever, for instance, considered investing in your passions? This can be extremely rewarding. Not only can it help you to enjoy your wealth, but it also provides diversification and return potential.
Investing in something that will enrich your life (not just your wallet) is becoming more and more popular at a time when wellness and work-life balance are the buzz words. That’s one of the reasons Hong Kong has a burgeoning high-end wine market – one that Ching Wong of wine realtor Zachys says is surprisingly easy to get involved in.
Socially responsible investing is, of course, another way to put your money where your heart is. This involves selecting companies or mutual funds for your portfolio based on your own ethical beliefs. And it’s something you can get into right here in DB by selling ecologically grown lettuce – well, by investing in hydroponics to be more precise!
FourEverGreen is a Hong Kong-based, European-owned and managed hydroponic farming company, operating in Liangkouzhen, Southern China. It produces high quality, organically fertilised ‘Living Lettuces’ in environmentally controlled greenhouses 365 days per year.
FourEverGreen chooses to engage outside partners as part of its sustainable business expansion model, giving those keen to diversify their personal portfolio a chance to be part of something meaningful.
“People commit to the purchase of a flatbed table, in fact most are buying two or three. This by its very nature will produce an income stream from the sale of the produce,” opens FourEverGreen sales director Annette Houlihan, a 22-year DB resident.
“Hydroponic farming is the future of agriculture given the continued pressure on the Earth’s limited resources,” Annette adds. “It is an efficient, modern, eco-friendly way to grow healthy, tasty lettuces in limited growing areas. With land and water becoming increasingly scarce, we are doing our part while taking care of the environment. We find that people like the idea of helping the world become a bit greener.”
Utlilising seeds, nutrients, fertilizers and technologies from Europe and Australia, FourEverGreen’s flagship greenhouse boasts 78 flatbed tables which are capable of producing 260 kilogrammes of fresh lettuce per day. Its Living Lettuces and Living Herbs ranges are marketed to highend food retailers, wholesalers, restaurateurs and hoteliers, and the aim is to get the lettuces to clients within 24 hours of harvest.
“FourEverGreen is focused on Living Lettuces (supplied with their roots intact), because our hydroponic growing technique enables us to grow fresh lettuces every day,” Annette says. “This gives us a growth cycle from seed to harvest of around 25 to 30 days, which is 300% faster than traditional farming methods.”
The difference between hydroponic farming and traditional arable farming is very simple. Hydroponically farmed lettuces are grown in nutrient controlled water, enabling the plants to feed and grow quickly, as the nutrients can be absorbed directly into the plants’ roots. This method uses 90% less water than the arable farming process, where plants are traditionally grown in soil.
“The chemicals and pesticides associated with traditional farming are not used in the growing process,” Annette says. “The lettuces are fed with nutrients and organic fertilisers, which means they are healthy, tasty and big.”
Eco-minded readers will also want to note that FourEverGreen’s farm is set across 12 acres of land, which provides a cost-efficient operating base with huge potential for future expansion. Due to the farm’s high elevation, the water, in which the lettuces are grown, is sourced direct from clean mountain springs, which is tested for purity by SGS.
“Through every aspect of our business we follow the FourEverGreen philosophy: Healthy, Sustainable, Ethical and Eco-friendly,” Annette concludes.
Zachys, a family owned company that originated as a wine retailer in New York and has a number of Discovery Bay-based clients, has had a presence in Hong Kong since 2008 and runs both live and online auctions here.
It sold over US$26,000,000 of wine in live auctions in Hong Kong in 2017, with burgundy wine picking up significantly in recent times and wines from the Bordeaux region continuing to be popular. Prices can start at less than HK$1,000 a bottle, while the sky is the limit for the ceiling, with wines up to 100 years old often on the table.
“People are buying wine to drink and they are storing some away, whether they decide to sell it or drink it later,” says Ching Wong, a wine specialist and private accounts manager at Zachys. “We find a lot of wine lovers tend to buy a lot without realising it, and they accumulate this massive collection. They love wine and they then realise they can’t drink it all, so they love to share it with other wine lovers around the world, not necessarily to make a profit but purely because wine has a sell by date and it hits a peak.”
There are, of course, real profits to be made from investing in fine wine, with three/ six/ 12 bottles often fetching better prices at auction than a single bottle. “The best wines for investment are produced in small quantities (a maximum of 25,000 cases). Finite supply coupled with overwhelming demand and consumption over time will drive prices up over time,” Ching explains.
“Burgundy wines, first-growth Bordeaux, fine Champagnes, cult Californian wines and Super Tuscans from exceptional vintages have brought good returns in recent years,” she adds.
The best returns often come from medium- to long-term investments, with investors prepared to wait at least five years.
“Invest in quality wines that are meant for aging, know your prices and get to know your wine merchant(s) and/ or fine wine auction house,” Ching says. “It is important to deal with reputable vendors to ensure that your wines come from sound provenance.”
Professional storage is also a must. “It is important to keep your investment in a professional, secure, temperature- and humidity-controlled facility, so that the wines are maintained in the best condition until the day you sell.”
While Hong Kong is not traditionally known as a wine stronghold due to its distance from the world’s best wine regions, Ching says that the Asian wine market is thriving. About half of what Zachys sells in Hong Kong remains here, 30% heads to China and 20% finds its way out into wider Asia.
“Hong Kong is the place to be – the zero tax is a great perk and the logistics are good,” Ching concludes. “Hong Kong has great facilities and services for wine lovers, whether to store their wine, enjoy their wine or, in the case of expats, ship wine back to their home countries.”
Photos by Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com, and courtesy of ZachysTags: wine, alternative investments, annette houlihan, fourevergreen, zachys, hydroponics