The detriments of single use plastics have been well documented in the digital age, perhaps with the most impact in 2015 when marine biologist, Christine Figgener, filmed the removal of a plastic straw from a turtle’s nose. The video hit a chord with consumers, sparking a movement to “save the turtles” and put single-use plastic straws on the run.
Since then, cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have banned the use of single-use plastic straws while some large corporations have announced a shift to more eco-friendly alternatives. Additionally, Starbucks recently announced its intentions to eliminate single-use plastic straws from its more than 28,000 company operated and licensed stores by 2020 in favor of new recyclable lids.
In the new era of sustainability, many consumers look to reusable, bio-degradable and even edible alternatives. As the eco-conscious lifestyle grows, many independent gourmet retailers have found success stocking plastic straw alternatives as well as other eco-friendly product lines.
For Frederick, MD-based The Kitchenette, for example, reusable straws have grown in demand over the past six months and today are a top selling item.
“I have always had reusable straws in my barware section, but they have only recently become popular — not just as a barware item, but for use by environmentally-conscious customers and students going away to college,” said Marien Hornyak, owner of The Kitchenette. “They were on backorder just about everywhere, so I had a precious few to sell. Now, I have three different kinds. I’m hoping that they carry us through most of the upcoming holiday season because I bought a lot of them.”
Carolyn Fagan, who co-owns Troy, NY-based Culinary Square with her daughter Samantha, echoed Hornyak’s sentiments, and noted that stocking reusable straws has been important to the duo since the store’s opening in 2016. And, since then, the store’s selection has grown.
“We are conscious ourselves of being eco-friendly and that prompted us to look for items that we could carry in that category,” she said. “We have seen an increase in demand for these items during the past six months. We carry Corkcicle stainless straws, Joie rainbow straws and HIC stainless straws. Right now, we are sold out of everything except the Corkcicle straws. We are also just bringing in RSVP stainless straws and RSVP silicone straws.”
Moving from plastic to reusable is no easy feat for consumers, however. The switch takes time and effort and is often considered a lifestyle choice. Hornyak noted that customers that choose to use alternative straws have to get in the habit of taking them wherever they go and cleaning them as they get used.
“It does take a bit of getting used to when making a lifestyle change like that, even if it seems like a minor change,” she said.
However, passion usually accompanies the lifestyle, and can serve as a good conversation starter for independent retailers looking to connect with their customers.
“I don’t initiate conversations regarding the straws because they pretty much sell themselves, but once a customer shows interest in them, I do like to engage in conversation about them,” Hornyak said.
When it comes to merchandising and marketing, Fagan noted that the store hasn’t had to do much to support the category thus far, since it is seemingly increasing in popularity on its own accord at this point.
“We haven’t really done anything different in marketing these products than we do for all our other products. We feature them in our social media and display them as prominently as possible, but they pretty much sell themselves,” she said.
Both Fagan and Hornyak went on to note that as more consumers embrace the eco-conscious lifestyle, the store has seen the growth of not just alternative straws but that of other sustainable product lines as well.
The Kitchenette carries Swedish reusable cleaning cloths and silicone scrubbers to help its customers reduce the use of paper towels, and silicone covers to reduce the use of plastic wrap, and collapsible drinking cups. Hornyak noted that the store has recently expanded its selection of reusable dishcloths thanks to increasing demand.
For Culinary Square, a wide variety of eco-friendly products are stocked in-store and include everything from tote bags for the nearby farmer’s market, Bee’s Wrap and even its new lineup of ECOlunchboxes.