Entrepreneurs, Startup News

‘Like a supermarket trolley’: Former KeepCup co-founder launches reusable bowl startup

Dominic Powell /

Returnr

Returnr co-founder Jamie Forsyth. Source: Supplied.

The founder of Aussie success story KeepCup is taking another bite of the reusable products market, launching a new bowl and cup sharing startup aimed at inner-city workers.

Aptly called Returnr, the business lets customers pick up their food in a reusable stainless steel bowl after paying a $6 dollar deposit. After eating, users can then return the bowl, re-use the bowl, or keep it forever (and forgo their $6).

But founder Jamie Forsyth tells StartupSmart he’s finding most users are opting for the second choice, re-using the bowl numerous times in an effort to avoid relying on single-use containers.

“Returnr is looking to solve one of the biggest and most important age-old problems: forgetting your reusable cup and bowl,” he says.

“It’s a bit similar to a supermarket trolley in the sense the model is simple, transparent and free, and it solves a lot of the issues inherent with reusable containers.”

Forsyth’s previous business, KeepCup, is an example of one of those issues. He says while the ownership model works well for personal reusable coffee cups in a cafe setting, it translates poorly to other reusable containers and other settings.

Returnr’s model means it can be used for delivery, drive-throughs, and pre-order services such as Hey You, and the company has even penned a partnership with Deliveroo for restaurants to serve and deliver food in Returnr’s stainless steel bowls.

“In those situations, you can’t have ownership, it defeats the entire purpose.”

Competing with KeepCup

Forsyth founded Returnr about three years ago after leaving his role as chief operations officer at KeepCup. The business launched late last year into a four-month feasibility trial, which Forsyth says was extremely successful.

“In that time we saved over 85,000 bowls from landfill, and since then we’ve been pushing out into a much wider network of merchants and we’ve got a heavy product development pipeline also,” he says.

The next product for Returnr will be reusable cups, both coffee-sized and smoothie-sized, which can be swapped for bowls and vice versa. The founder envisions a scenario where a customer picks up a coffee in the morning and then exchanges the cup for a reusable bowl come lunch time.

However, Returnr’s foray into the reusable cup market is at risk of encroaching on KeepCup’s turf, a company Forsyth co-founded with his sister but is no longer involved with. The founder says he’s not interested in capturing KeepCup users with Returnr, instead believing there’s a place for users of both.

“KeepCup and Returnr are on the same mission, to get rid of single-use products. Some customers will move from one to the other, I’m sure, but I think there’s a place for both offerings,” he says.

Merchants using Returnr take responsibility for cleaning and storing the bowls when not in use by customers, and also pay the company a partner fee. That fee is designed to be low, says Forsyth, ideally costing the company the equivalent or less than what it would cost to purchase single-use bowls.

The company has locked in a number of merchant partners across Melbourne and a scattering in Sydney, with Forsyth’s former business Bluebag being a leading participating retailer. Forsyth has self-funded Returnr completely, and admits his connections through his previous businesses have been “heaps of help”.

“I’ve been leveraging all my experience I gained at KeepCup in terms of knowing how people treat reusable products, and how to sell and market them,” he says.

“At its core, Returnr is a sales and marketing business underpinned by a well-designed and engineered product.”

The business plans to launch its reusable coffee cups in two weeks, along with a new corporate offering for businesses.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the former features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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