CPG Playbook   //   June 13, 2024

How Repurpose built a brand around eco-friendly disposable products

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Most people don’t think about the brand behind their disposable plates, but Repurpose is trying to change that.

The company, which is now sold in major retailers like Kroger and Costco, makes eco-friendly disposable products like plates, cups napkins, trash bags and toilet paper. While its prices are competitive, they still are at a slight premium to foam and plastic players.

“It just felt like, why couldn’t this be its own little category and brand that represented a whole kind of better-for-you disposable product?” said Repurpose co-founder and CEO Lauren Gropper.

Gropper joined the Modern Retail Podcast and spoke about the 14-year-old company’s growth.

While Repurpose is in most major retailers today, it took a lot of work to convince buyers. “Any of the buyers that had any experience with it in the past [were] like, ‘This doesn’t work — we’ve tried it, so don’t even bother,’ said Gropper.

But after multiple news headlines around plastic disposable products hurting wildlife, more retailers began to seek out better alternatives. “We went from being in the knocking-down-every-door business to the incoming-call business,” she said.

Repurpose’s growth has helped it figure out a sustainable business model. The idea from the get-go was to make products that could be competitive with the likes of Dixie. While the company had very slim margins at first, volume has helped Repurpose cut down on costs.

“In the early days, we just went in with a lower margin knowing we’re going to make this up as time goes on,” Gropper said.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Why Repurpose focused on brand building
“I think the problem is that in the past, maybe there had been some version of eco-friendly products in this category. But it just didn’t work at all, and it was so expensive. So there was no buy-in on the consumer level. And so any of the buyers that had any experience with it in the past [were] like, ‘This doesn’t work — we’ve tried it, so don’t even bother.’ Or: ‘What is this?’ Or: ‘Does this even work?’ It was so much education around: Can this even work? What even is this? I’m doing just fine selling tons of foam and plastic… So we had to create a whole kind of campaign and story, which, I mean, you do with every product. But [it was] really about why they should choose us, why our product was different, why it was better, how we could actually sell through. And we had to prove it with sell-through. So it was a daunting task.”

The inflection point
“We always point to this inflection point — the moment things changed — was when there was that awareness of the straw in the turtle’s nose. And [it turned into] a giant awareness campaign around plastic is horrible. We went from being in the knocking-down-every-door business to the incoming-call business. And we had all the major retailers calling us about straws, because, at the time, we were one of the first to have compostable straws. Not the paper ones everybody hates, but compostable straws. And then that was kind of the Trojan horse that allowed us to show the rest of our line to some of these retailers.”

Making the margins work
“The costs have come down with volume, definitely, which is extremely helpful. As we enter more high-volume channels, that helps to bring costs down for everybody. So that’s an advantage for sure. We’ve had to take a strategy where, in the early days, we just went in with a lower margin knowing we’re going to make this up as time goes on. But we’ve got to be competitive. And we have to promote awareness and trial. And we can’t do that if we’re priced out of the competition. So that was kind of a strategy that we took early on. It has paid off, but it’s a gamble.”