KeepCup: How To Replace 500 Billion Disposable Cups Each Year
As owners of the BlueBag cafés in Melbourne, Abigail Forsyth and her brother Jamie saw for themselves the volume of single-use items generated by their industry. Disposable cups were the biggest component so Abigail and Jamie looked for a reusable alternative. Problem was, existing reusable cups were bulky, the wrong size or just didn’t work very well. The costs associated with developing their own product seemed prohibitive, but in 2007 Abigail decided to get serious. “I felt I couldn’t make excuses any longer. And knowing what professionals wanted, we were able to work with a design team to come up with a barista-standard reusable cup.”
The product first rolled off the production line in June 2009, and the sale of 10,000 KeepCups off a prototype did much to boost their confidence. “The support of the coffee community was one of the keys of success,” says Abigail. KeepCups replicate the sizes of standard disposable cups, and importantly for aficionados, they keep the crema on the espresso shot intact.
With the exception of the silicon bands that help to keep fingers cool, KeepCups are manufactured in Australia and sold to the world. “Right from the start we knew we needed international markets to be viable, and straight away we received orders from the USA from a Los Angeles blogger who had purchased at our first market,” says Abigail. “Australia is still the biggest market, but New Zealand is strong, the UK is gaining momentum and Canada looks good.”
There are 20 employees in Melbourne and another sibling Stuart Forsyth heads up a team of five in London. A virtual office and warehousing arrangements in Los Angeles help to service the US and Canadian markets and there are plans to roll out the website in multiple languages to support growing sales in Europe and Asia.
The main constraint on growth at the moment is production capacity. “We could have started with bigger moulds with more cavities,” says Abigail, “but it would have cost a lot more so I don’t regret that. We also learnt the importance of having a good website. The original online store wasn’t up to scratch, so we needed to develop a complete new website fairly quickly. It’s not a job you can tick off, your website needs to grow and change with your business, as well as technological and social media developments.”
Current focus is on consolidating KeepCups global market. Two container loads of KeepCups are headed for Japan, and agents have recently been appointed in Benelux and Italy. Abigail attributes the quick uptake to the power of blogs and social media. “It’s a product that people love to talk about, because its fun, works brilliantly and meets a need for a passionate section of the coffee community.”
Although motivated by the desire to reduce waste, Abigail recognised at the start that this wasn’t likely to be the main motivator for consumers. “Buyers are attracted by the fun colours, the design and the fact that they are nice to drink from,” she says. Each KeepCup comprises four components available in a range of colours. This allows for around 50,000 different colour combinations. And that’s before the new AFL and limited edition designer ranges are rolled out.
Cafés and coffee roasters also form an important part of the sales chain. Some cafés offer discounts to customers using KeepCups, recognising that they save between 10 and 40 cents for each disposable cup they avoid.
“We focus on the fun and colour, but as KeepCups popularity grows we are careful to underpin the product and the business with sustainability as the driving force,” says Abigail. This includes highlighting some spectacular statistics on the KeepCup website. For example, 500 billion disposable cups are manufactured in the world each year, and the cups only contain 5% of the total resources that go into making them.
KeepCup sets a good example for employees by using green power, installing master switches to completely turn off office power each night, and recycling waste. Employees are encouraged to cycle to work with many of them living close to the inner city office and warehouse.
KeepCup also supports Coffee Kids, a non-profit organisation that contributes to the education and welfare of the children of Latin American coffee growers.
With thousands of followers on Twitter and likes on Facebook, KeepCup has been able to harness social media as a powerful marketing tool. Looking at the conversations it’s clear that people really like their KeepCups and it’s no surprise that over a million of them have already been sold.
So how many KeepCups will it take to rid the world of the scourge of disposable cups? Somewhere in the billions is a fair guess.
It looks like Abigail, Jamie and KeepCup have their work cut out for quite a while yet.