Suck it and see: Vietnam eco-straw brand EQUO sets sights on overseas expansion
EQUO is focused on developing 100% plastic-free and compostable solutions for everyday single-use items from straws to utensils and even stationery, and aims to tackle the single-use plastic issue with its products.
“About 50% of all plastic products are in fact used only once, and only for 20 minutes or less, then takes hundreds of years to break down,” EQUO Founder Marina Tran-Vu told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“It’s also why we have opted to tackle single-use plastic first as in our quest to reduce plastic usage, it really is the easiest to tackle first – There are a lot of single-use plastic items out there, but replacing these with more eco-friendly items takes the least amount of effort as it does not require a change in consumer behaviour.
“Changing consumer behaviour is really difficult, but asking them to continue as is and just switch what they’re using for a more eco-friendly option, say swapping a plastic straw for a sugarcane one, it’s so much easier to get them to make the change as there’s no need to rehaul their lives to do it.”
EQUO has been careful to provide a wide variety of straws to appeal to younger consumers, and in doing this have developed five types of eco-friendly straws: Rice, Grass, Coconut, Coffee and Sugarcane.
“All the straws have their own unique advantages, and we really wanted to give consumers choices in a category where they were very limited before, so as to show that sustainability doesn’t have to be boring and bland,” she said.
“Our straws also have several advantages over current non-plastic alternatives - One of the most popular ones nowadays is paper straws, but the issue with this one is that it dissolves very quickly, and most people also don’t know that the manufacturing process of these is in fact worse than plastic in terms of carbon emissions.
“These also cannot be recycled as they’re too small to be sorted by the machine, so tend to still go to landfill instead – as marketing tactic, paper straws are good but in terms of being eco-friendly or convenient to use, not so much.”
EQUO’s straws have varying usability periods depending on the material – Rice straws can last from 30 minutes to an hour and are also completely edible after usage, like pasta; Grass straws can last about two hours, Coconut straws for two to three hours, and Coffee and Sugarcane straws for up to 72 hours, though the firm does not recommend usage (or keeping a drink) for over five to 10 hours.
“Other popular straw options are reusable ones made from metal, silicone, glass or bamboo – Two major complaints we hear about these are about the inconvenience of carrying these around and having to remember to wash them as well as being sure they have been washed properly,” said Tran-Vu.
“There’s a lot of concern regarding the cleanliness and hygiene of these reusable options, especially bamboo as there are crevices that are hard to clean – thus reusing these in foodservice could be less-than-popular especially in COVID times, as no one wants to ‘share’ a straw especially if not properly cleaned but there’s no guarantee of that.”
EQUO straws recently made its latest international launch into Singapore, having secured physical retail presence in various NTUC Fairprice Finest outlets, Green Collective stores as well as vending machines, in addition to online via Redmart and Lazada. A pack of 50 straws retails for between S$8 to S$12 depending on the selected variant.
“At present, we are aware that our prices are still a bit more premium that other options such as paper or plastic, but the fact is that these materials have had decades to reach cost efficiency whilst we’re just starting out,” she added.
“We are definitely looking to reduce our prices year after year to ensure wide acceptability and purchasability by everyone.”
Sustainability in the region
Apart from Singapore and Vietnam, EQUO has also launched in Canada, the United States and Australia, with plans to enter Japan and Europe soon.
“Japan and Europe are notoriously hard markets to enter based on certifications and so on, so being able to enter these markets has been a really validation for us and our sustainability credentials,” said Tran-Vu.
“I believe that just about everyone across the globe now has some knowledge and awareness about the sustainability issues we are facing, only that in western markets like the US and Canada, it’s a lot more upfront and there’s a lot more media coverage.
“So I don’t feel there’s one particular market that’s more advanced in terms of sustainability than others per se, but we wanted to launch in Singapore as a leader in the Asian world as the infrastructure and development going on locally has shown that it is poised to be a leader in the sustainability trend and adoption in Asia.”
EQUO also has a line of eco-friendly utensils made from sugarcane, coffee or wood as well as cotton bags, compostable single-use bags.
“We’re also developing more items to replace single-use plastic, such as food packaging, fruit bags, dishware and stationery items including pencils,” she said.