In Hong Kong, second-graders might have once begged their parents for a trip to Disneyland on weekends. Now many of them want to go to an organic farm instead. A local entrepreneur has discovered a way to make growing healthy food wildly popular: Add a Hello Kitty theme.
The Hello Kitty Go Green Organic Farm, a 50,000 square foot farm that opened last June and was reported on in Modern Farmer, is plastered with the cartoon character–wearing overalls and a straw hat, and holding a carrot in her paw–at every step. Even some of the produce grown at the farm is sold with Hello Kitty stickers.
The farm began as an ordinary, un-themed organic garden project. Founder Raymond Cheng was just looking for a way to unwind after work at a stressful job.
“Four years ago, when I was working somewhere else, I always had to take sick leave because of high pressure and insufficient sleep,” he says. “So I rented a piece of land for myself to relax. I also wanted to grow organic food because of health issues, and the food safety problem in Hong Kong and China. I worked in the daytime, and then I was a weekend farmer.”
Eventually, Cheng decided to quit his job and work on the farm full-time, opening it up to others who wanted to rent plots. Last year, he started thinking about to how to draw in more aspiring farmers.
“There are so many farms in Hong Kong, but there are no special themes to attract customers,” he says. “I started to think, why don’t we cross over with some character so we can attract more families? I wanted more children to come to the farm to learn about green and organic.”
Sanrio, the company that licenses Hello Kitty, was reluctant at first–Cheng only had a two-person staff, including himself. But eventually they decided it was a good idea, and the newly themed farm opened a few months later.
It was a wild success. “In the past, without Hello Kitty, during the weekend we got around a maximum of 100 customers coming to my farm to rent a piece of land or grow or buy some organic crops,” Cheng explains. “But after Hello Kitty, we can go to 500 and sometimes over 1,000 people coming in one day.”
At several points last summer, so many people lined up that Cheng had to turn them away. “The power of Hello Kitty is very great,” he says.
The farm offers plot rental, guided tours, classes, crafts, and the Hello Kitty Little Farmer program, which teaches kids and their parents the basics of growing crops on their own tiny plot. Cheng is already thinking about ways to expand, including a new section of the farm that will offer Hello Kitty themed weddings. He also may move to new locations.
“Because the land in scarce in Hong Kong, we don’t have much room for expanding with Hello Kitty here,” he says. “So we’re thinking of starting another farm in China. We’re thinking of combining organic farming with Hello Kitty Land, an amusement park like Disneyland. Hello Kitty Land already exists in other places, but I want to combine it with an organic farm.”