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US couple’s alternative to the “bag for life”

Lotus bagA few months on from the introduction of the plastic bag ban at Coles and Woolworths, and it seems that many Australian shoppers are still struggling with the idea.

Canstar Blue revealed on Monday that one in five shoppers usually forget to bring their reusable bags and end up paying for another at the checkout. But worse, about 20 per cent of shoppers have been so resistant to the ban that they have admitted to stealing reusable bags to avoid dishing out the extra few cents.

It’s not surprise then to learn that Coles and Woolies are showing interest in other products that might make life a bit easier for frustrated shoppers.

Husband and wife team, Jen and Farzan Dehmoubed from California have created the Lotus trolley bag and are already in talks with the “big two” about introducing it to stores.

Inside FMCG spoke to Jen Dehmoubed about their plans for expansion into Australia and tackling supermarket waste, one shopping trolley at a time.

Inside FMCG: What prompted the idea for the Lotus Bag?

Jen Dehmoubed: Our business was born out of pure frustration. California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags in 2016. We were both happy when the plastic bag ban came into effect, but what we found was that with a lot of families, it didn’t reduce waste. We were just accumulating bigger, more cumbersome plastic bags or cheap reusable bags that piled up endlessly in drawers and closets. My whole pantry was becoming a reusable bag wasteland. So, we jumped on the opportunity to supply shoppers with a new way to pack their groceries while solving the plastic and reusable bag dilemma.

After countless prototypes, we created the Lotus Trolley Bag, a four bag system that spreads out and hangs from your grocery cart, accordion-file style to allow for easy packing and organization. There is a deep insulated bag for cold items, pockets to hold eggs securely, wine sleeves to keep bottles safe, and strong mesh bottoms to prevent spills from pooling and molding. They roll up neatly into a clutter free, lightweight carrier and are machine washable. These bags save time and energy, but most importantly they eliminate millions of wasteful, harmful plastic bags from our environment.

Inside FMCG: When did you decide to go all in?

I’m a math teacher and my husband worked in advertising. We weren’t expecting the Lotus Trolley Bag endeavor to become a full-time job. We started the company as a small, part-time project. We expected our first shipment in 2017 to sell out in three months; we ran out of the 5,000 bag sets in two weeks.

Facing a significantly larger demand than we anticipated, we realized that properly running the business would require all of our attention.

My husband says that was the turning point. At that point, we knew it was time to go in full force. For me, it meant giving up full benefits and a salary and saying goodbye to my students for good at the end of the school year, which was hard. But, we had to have faith and just make the leap.

Inside FMCG: What are the plans for expansion into Australia?

We hope to spread the same concept we made successful in the US in Australia. We have already received hundreds of emails and preorders from Aussi’s and we are excited to offer people a smart alternative to wasteful plastics. Besides selling on our website, we are also in talks with Coles and Woolworths. Both have shown interest in the product and we’ve already secured two patents for the concept in Australia.

Inside FMCG: What has been the reaction so far from supermarkets? 

The response from supermarkets have been wonderful. As a small businesses it’s been hard to get in front of the hundreds of supermarkets we’d like to but almost every supermarket chain we have shown the concept to has brought it on and expanded the program. Not only are the supermarkets supporting a eco-friendly alternative to plastic but these bags cut the checkout and packing time in half. Because you can bag and pack with both hands customers move through the checkout line faster which increases productivity and profits at the stores. We hope to spread the same concept into Woolworths and Coles soon.

Inside FMCG: What has been the reaction from customers so far? 

The customer feedback has been what has really driven us. The reviews and feedback have been so wonderful. We have a 4.6 star rating on amazon with over 500 reviews from passionate fans.

So far we have sold over 30,000 unit, almost $1 million in the last year. We’ve received inquiries from 14 different countries and Australia is our first venture outside the US.

Inside FMCG: So, what’s next for the business?

We hope to keep expanding in retail and online in both Australia and US but also into Europe, Canada and Mexico. More than anything we want to show people there is a better alternative to traditional plastic bags.

I think to myself often, plastic never goes away. Sure, after trash pick-up, it’s out of sight, out of mind; but the truth is, it never goes away. It’s sits for thousands of years in landfills and spreads it’s way polluting our oceans and lands. We want to do something that can a difference — we hope together we can put a dent in the plastic pollution and help preserve our beautiful environment and oceans. As a family company, we also believe in giving back. We partner with the nonprofit ‘1% for the Planet’, and through them we donate 1 per cent of every sale to Plastic Pollution Coalition and Surfrider Foundation.

We’ve just introduced our matching Lotus Produce Bags. Our new reusable produce bags are washable, durable and can be used for a variety of things including fruits, vegetable, nuts, organization and more. We are very excited to offer the products together and eliminate all the plastic bags needed at the store.

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