After coming to market amid school strikes for climate change and the war on waste, sustainable straw business Little Green Panda has attracted a loyal customer base through Instagram interaction and word-of-mouth marketing.
In 16 months, that momentum has led to 2.6 million straws sold, and 200% month-on-month revenue growth.
The boutique straw business sells reusable and customisable bamboo straws, as well as single-use options made from wheat and sugar cane.
The bamboo product is sourced from a farm in Vietnam, while the wheat straws are made from a byproduct of wheat production from a farm in Mongolia, a product that would otherwise be disposed of.
For co-founders Teresa Aylott and Manon Beauchamp-Tardieu, that’s an important part of the business.
“We wanted to take that waste and turn it into another source of income for them,” Aylott tells SmartCompany.
“As we’re growing, they’re growing too.”
Little Green Panda was born when Beauchamp-Tardieu and Aylott met at a networking event and realised they were working on similar products.
Rather than face off as competitors, they “bonded over our greater sense of purpose to eliminate single-use plastics”, Aylott says.
The pair started selling reusable bamboo straws, mainly on Amazon, and later started a few social media accounts that “blew up”, Beauchamp-Tardieu says.
“We also had a lot of restaurants and bars and hotels approach us, asking if we had a single-use option … So we put our thinking caps on.”
The co-founders started researching potential materials for sustainable single-use straws that would stand up to a smoothie, and found that “back in the 1800s, people used to use wheat straws”.
Historically, Beauchamp-Tardieu explains, it was about preventing the spread of disease. However, the founders saw an opportunity to use an old-school solution for a modern-day problem.
“We were so dependent on plastic that we forgot that this existed,” she says.
“We would love to take credit for it, but it’s actually been around a long time. We’re just bringing it back.”
A shift in mindset
Since the co-founders joined forces about 16 months ago, they have shifted more than 2.6 million straws, selling to boutique bars and restaurants, five-star hotels and distributors in Australia and New Zealand.
They’ve also got the product stocked at a large French supermarket chain.
About 80% of stock is going to hospitality clients, which “churn through the straws at a rapid rate”, Aylott says.
But, retail clients are still an important part of the business.
“They don’t order as frequently, but they’re higher value,” she says.
Revenue-wise, the business is growing 200% month-on-month.
And two months into 2020, the founders had already sold more than in the full six months previous.
“The thing with our business is we have to educate a lot of people about what we’re doing,” Beauchamp-Tardieu says.
“In 2019 we were bringing awareness,” she explains.
But last year also saw school kids striking over inaction on climate change, and the beginning of a devastating bushfire season in Australia; the general public has never been so mindful of sustainability issues.
For Little Green Panda, that means potential customers are much more easily convinced.
“People are like, ‘oh my gosh, we need to do this’,” Beauchamp-Tardieu says.
The power of people
So far, Beauchamp-Tardieu and Aylott haven’t had to spend much on marketing, with most of their business’s growth coming through word-of-mouth and social media.
“Instagram is a huge generator of new business for us,” Aylott explains.
Beauchamp-Tardieu has experience in graphic design and communications, which she has put to good use.
“I knew creating a strong brand and a strong social media presence is really important,” Beauchamp-Tardieu says.
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We’re working hard to fight against single use plastic and paper straws. ( #savethetrees ????) How are we doing that?? Easy! We’re bringing the original straws made from straws back to the surface. ~ Psst… did you know they’ve been around since the 1800’s!! Our wheat straws are 100% garden compostable, soggy-free (we’re looking at you mushy paper straws ????), gluten free and all handmade with love ???? Check us out at www.littlegreenpanda.com
Instagram provides a way to reach a lot of people, and grow the brand organically, she adds.
“As a startup with a limited budget, we thought that was a great strategy to really push the brand out there.”
The founders take care not to use their Instagram presence simply to flog the product. Rather, they also try to educate their followers and provide tips to help them on their own sustainability journey.
“We’re not just selling straws. We’re selling this movement … at the end of the day it’s a straw, but it’s so much more than that,” Beauchamp-Tardieu says.
This approach, in turn, brings those followers on the business journey too.
“Our followers are such big advocates of what we do, and that’s because they love supporting a sustainable company and the mission of what we’re trying to achieve,” she says.
In fact, the founders have even had followers go out and tell local bars and restaurants about the product, leading to those establishments reaching out directly, and ultimately becoming customers.
“We also have people contacting us and they want to sell the straws for us — like ambassadors,” Aylott notes.
“That’s quite powerful as well.”
The way of the future
Little Green Panda has arguably ridden a wave of sustaibility sentiment, but Aylott doesn’t think that’s going to subside anytime soon.
“I think it’s only going to build momentum. We’re reaching breaking point,” she says.
In fact, the thing she’s more concerned about is new competitors coming to market. And even that is not a major worry.
“I think what will happen is that the market will get pretty saturated with cool, sustainable products, which is a good thing,” she says.
“I think the demand is going to increase, so the competition is going to increase. And that’s a win-win.”
The more demand there is for good-quality sustainable products, the more likely the large corporations are to stop producing plastics, Beauchamp-Tardieu notes.
“If people don’t buy their products, they’re going to be forced to quit, for something more sustainable,” she says.
“This is going to be the way of the future.”