Dairy Reporter Dialog Podcast: Interview with EcoTensil Founder, CEO, and creative force behind the paperboard utensil maker, Peggy Cross

Dairy Reporter Dialog Podcast: Interview with EcoTensil Founder, CEO, and creative force behind the paperboard utensil maker, Peggy Cross

This week's July 15, 2020  Dairy Dialog podcast, with four guests: CEO/Founder and creative visionary of EcoTensil; Lisa Harrison, senior brand manager at Norseland in the UK; George Haymaker III, founder of Re:THINK Ice Cream; and Jay Watson, sourcing engagement manager for global sustainability at General Mills.

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

We started EcoTensil here in the U.S. 10 years ago, and we create paperboard utensils. So it's a utensil to replace plastic utensils. I'm sure I don't need to go into all the problems of plastic utensils creating in the world. We're all very familiar with that. And now we're seeing more and more people really concerned. Um, and we're happy to be able to offer this alternative.

So the basic concept of the EcoTensil utensils is they're a flat paperboard out of something similar to a coffee cup, uh, but our green dot and new Aqua Dot products are compostable and recyclable and plastic free, but it's a similar material. and They're structured so in one simple fold, they become a very sturdy utensil. So you can scoop yogurt. Um, and they will also, uh, have a certain cutting capability. Like you can cut a piece of watermelon with this, you can cut hard boiled egg. They are pretty strong. And we've developed a whole range of products based on this concept. So some, for example, are designed specifically for ice cream, while our very popular utensil is used for sampling... you know, you'd take a few bites and then A plastic utensil is going to be around for centuries after you use it for a few seconds.

 We also sell into correctional facilities for as a safer utensil.

 And what we're really seeing a lot of interest in right now is our on package utensil. So replacing the ubiquitous plastic spoons that are come with your yogurt pot, and we're seeing a big demand for that now coming from Europe because of the single use plastic ban, uh, that's coming up in a year from now, Canada has a similar ban going on. U S is slowly moving in that direction as well. So now we offer an alternative. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

How different are they from? What's already out there on the market. There are a few, I guess, alternatives to plastic.

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

Well there's, uh, one alternative to plastic that's been out there has been the PLA, polylactic acid, which is a corn based plastic. However, um, they're finding those that really are not breaking down. Uh, they will only break down an industrial compost and most of the utensils are not finding their way to the industrial compost facilities. And they basically are gonna languish just as long in a landfill as a plastic utensil.


The other alternative is a wood and that's what Europe, in particular, is really focusing on right now, uh, because they are not accepting the PLA because it basically is a plastic.


The challenge with wood is that people do not like the taste. of wood. You know what I've heard people describe it like it's like nails on a chalkboard, or it just gives me chills to think about scraping my teeth on a wood spoon or slivers and what not. 

So it's not a great alternative for a lot of people. And companies put a ton of money into making their product taste really beautiful. And now you're gonna kind of wreck it with a wood spoon. So that's, I think a big reason why, particularly in Europe, we're getting a lot of response.

Also a wood spoon can't be folded. So what we're seeing is people asking for a replacement for the little folded plastic wrapped plastic spoons that snap into your dome lid, your top cup, you can't fold the wooden spoon. If it's small enough to fit in their lid, it's too small to reach down into the yogurt. And we have a folded spoon, uh, that works beautifully. It pops open, works beautifully for those types of yogurt cups and salad, trays and whatnot. So that's how we size up against the alternatives. The PLA is also very expensive. Everything is more expensive than plastic. That's also an issue that people look at, but we're pretty competitive with other alternatives. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 
You mentioned the compostable aspects of this, um, some products that are compostable have to be put into special facilities and landfills to be compostable. Are these ones that you can throw in your own sort of garden waste, or if you left one in the garden, it would decompose. How do they work in terms of compostability? 

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

In terms of compostability, we went through the ASTM D 6868 compliance testing, which is, uh, in the U S the official testing to determine compostability. In an industrial facility you have to, you have to break down in a 180 days, some are even 90 days. These [EcoTasters] were completely indiscernible in the compost tests that they did after 40 days. So they break down very easily in industrial compost, as well as in regular compost, In my really lousy home compost, you think I'd be better at it, but, you know, I just don't get out there and turn it and whatnot. And the utensils are gone easily within the 40 days. I'm talking specifically about our green dot line, which is our greenest line. They basically just have a mineral coating, on them. There's no plastic on them. And then it's paper, the mineral coating does give a really nice, smooth, feel, really pleasant mouth feel. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

I assume that, I mean, now that we're not going to any events at the moment, because they're all either canceled or postponed, but I assume that they will be really useful. So the big food shows as well. 

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

Yeah. The EcoTasters have been hugely popular here in the U S where we've launched them initially. We go to Natural Products Expo West and over half the food booths there are using the EcoTasters – those that are using utensils. So they've been very popular. Those are not really selling right now because there are no more shows, but the slack has really been taken up by this interest in packaging. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

You mentioned the fact that they cost slightly more than plastic, how cost effective and easy are they for companies to introduce, because I think often companies have the way that they do things and they think, you know, am I going to have to install all kinds of new equipment? Is it going to be cost effective? 

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

I would say that's a resounding yes. In terms of, um, companies being able, if you're trying to replace a plastic utensil on your package, that's the beauty of EcoTasters and EcoTensil products.

I come from packaging and I love packaging, I'm a total packaging geek. And so I always am thinking all the way through how is somebody going to get this on their package. If they're using a robotic arm to, for application, what if they're using a bandolier to get their utensil on there? What if they're using centripetal piece of equipment to align the products? And so we design our products to be able to fit all these different types of applications. We have them wrapped, we have them tab locked, so they stay locked in a small folded shape. We have the shapes to fit all the different types of applications. So we've had that in the forefront of our minds.

Generally, like I said, everything is going to be more expensive than plastic. And, you know, we're no different than that. But with the plastic bans coming out, you know, people need to find solutions and we're cost competitive. And we offer a lot of ease of application onto cups, trays, over wraps, boxes, all kinds of different to-go containers. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

And I think there's a trade off as well in so far as this is what consumers are starting to demand. 

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

Right. Right. And we find, particularly in the dairy industry, we see more so in Europe than in U S cups that come with a utensil on the single serve yogurt cup, uh, which makes a lot of sense. I'm actually surprised we don't see more of that here in the U S because we are such a grab and go society here, but that's where we can really see the utensils, allowing these companies to still maintain having their utensil and have that advantage of being able to be sold in a fast food or a grab and go type of retail environment and not have to compromise that convenience for their customers. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

I can't really get through an interview these days without mentioning Corona virus. But I know that just last week, we were at a seaside booth where they were selling ice creams. Of course, you do the social distancing thing, but they're not selling them in cones anymore. They're selling them in the cups where you just take it and get out the store as quickly as possible and go and eat it somewhere else. So I think that that's also going to be a factor in this is that people want that kind of product that they can just grab and go that has the utensil in the lid. 

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

Yes. Yes. That's very true. People are very conscious of wanting to have their utensil potentially included with the package on the grab and go situations. We're working on a deli tray right now, that's sort of a board stock cardboard. And we're looking at attaching the spoon, right to the deli tray, such that it's folded underneath. And so it stays clean from the food and it stays clean from the exterior. And no one has to, um, touch a spoon or grab a spoon from a big pile of utensils in a big box or a bin, or what have you, where you're touching everyone else's, even if they're wrapped, you're still touching everyone else's. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

And as far as scale, is this something that would be applicable to both small users? Like the guy who's just making a few tubs of ice cream to sell from his farm shop, right? The way through to companies churning out millions of products. 

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

Absolutely. Um, we do a lot of customization, so the larger companies are a great fit for us because we can customize to their specific cup. We can print it, we can make it snap into an existing, um, roll top paper, board, lid, and we can replace the disk. Um, if you have an inset tab lid that goes into an ice cream cup, and for the smaller companies, we have a lot of standard products that are affordable and available off the shelf. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

And I assume also that you will work with companies if they have a specific design or a specific requirement. the printing is interesting as well, because then I guess people can do things like promotions or giveaways, email addresses, that kind of thing. 

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

Absolutely, absolutely. You know, particularly in the higher volumes, we can pretty much do whatever anyone needs to customize it. We do custom printing and all sizes and all of volumes of our standard products. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

So the printing is interesting as well, because then I guess people can do things like promotions or giveaways, email addresses, that kind of thing.

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

Exactly. We have a paperboard tab lid that replaces the lid for an ice cream cup, where the spoon actually peels out of the lid that can be custom printed with the company's brand on it. And basically you're just replacing your lid with this lid that contains the spoon. So you're really minimizing waste. We can actually insert an ice scoop spoon into an existing lid where you might've had a plastic spoon or wood spoon, and that can be printed with a brand or a promotion .

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

Or already in North America. And you've just launched them in Europe. Are they in any other places as well? 

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

Oh, we have in EcoTensil resellers in New Zealand and also we have several distributors in Canada. We do have a couple of distributors in the UK already, and we have a new distribution facility in the Netherlands. We have a new online website, so people can go directly online in Europe and order directly from that website for the non custom products. And then we have a whole range of more customized and on package products, uh, that you can reach out to us via the website or EcoTensil.com is the website. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

And are you constantly working on new things, new concepts, new products? 

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

Hell yeah. Uh, yeah, that's our favorite thing. We love to have companies approach us and say, well, how are we going to replace this plastic spoon on this existing package? Here's what our equipment is. Here's the volumes that we need. Uh, here's our concerns with our buyers or customers. And we love to help come up with solutions. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

And what's the reaction been like to the products? So far?

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

The reaction to the EcoTensil products, particularly here in the U S where we've been around for about 10 years, has been very positive. Uh, we get a lot of love mail, uh, on our Facebook. People, at first, they look at them and they're like, Oh, this is interesting. And once they try it, you know, they realize how, what a wonderful sampling experience that it is. They they're viscerally more sustainable than plastic. And people just really respond to that lady. We have stores that are doing demos and people respond to the demo, or at least they used to be doing demos. People respond that they just really love that that company is not using plastic. It's very positive reflection on the companies is what we're hearing back. 

Jim Cornall, Dairy Reporter Interviewer: 

And I guess it's one of those things. I'm trying to think of a good analogy and can't for the life of me, but it's one of those things that once you've used a product like this, you, you don't really want to use anything else.

Peggy Cross, CEO/Founder of EcoTensil:

It's true. Once we have a customer and they see how beautifully these work
no one ever wants to go back to plastic.






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