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Tackling the Plastic Menace

By Poornima Apte Email By Poornima Apte
July 2019
Tackling the Plastic Menace

One of the planetary perils we face today is the overuse of plastic. Atlanta-based entrepreneur Mehul Bhagat is among those who are troubled enough to take on the challenge of drastically reducing, if not eliminating, its presence. Savor, which he cofounded, has come out with spoons that you eat rather than discard. It’s a first step in the right direction.

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Why did you decide to launch Savor?
I started Savor with my cofounder, Rostam Zafari, when we were at Emory (College). We were looking for a way to make an impact on the plastic pollution crisis. What if we can design marine degradable products? If they end up getting composted, that's wonderful, but if they end up in a waterway or a landfill, they'll actually have a path to end of life. That was our initial hypothesis. We saw someone in India had tried to make edible spoons and we wanted to license this idea, but he wasn't interested. And so we decided we were going to do it on our own. We started mixing dough and experimenting and it took us about three months to get to a first working prototype.

Tell me about the early trials and failures.
The first three months were the hardest in that we were running on hope and the idea. That's the fuel you burn when you're an entrepreneur. No one had successfully commercialized this sort of idea. No one had put it in every store in America. But there were prototypes of the product itself. Rough as they were, imperfect as they were, they existed. And so it gave us a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. But they were not pretty. They would probably last for two seconds in any sort of liquid or the dough would rise and it would look deformed. And so we would call the food scientists and ask very fundamental questions. A lot of this happened in my parents' kitchen or my cofounder's parents' kitchen.

Do you find the equipment and the overhead to be a challenge?
I definitely find it to be a challenge. We're going to be at Dancing Goats (coffee bar) and Jamba Juice locations in Atlanta, piloting and seeing how customers are responding. I think one of the things is how do brands adopt this? So far they have been really receptive. But the big question is, how do consumers react? How do customers and individuals react when they see this product on the shelf, and will they adopt it?

The product is made from flour, is that right?
Flour and water are the base, and there are a couple of other ingredients. And we can flavor them. The initial product we're going to market with is a honey vanilla spoon. The goal is to create a product that works in anything from ice cream to soup. And there are some limitations that are challenging. We worked with Ben and Jerry's early on, and showed them the product. Ben and Jerry's ice cream is incredibly dense. Fro-yo and gelato work great. The densest ice creams don't work with our spoons yet. Even plastic spoons will bend or snap.

In an ice cream shop, our spoon replaces plastic but it also functions like an ice cream cone. You go to an ice cream shop, you don't think about the cone always as a plastic-saving device, but it usually saves you that plastic spoon, and that paper cup when you get it. You buy it because you like the taste, and you like the experience.

So would you see this as a gateway to more starch food utensils? What happens after the spoons are adopted widely?
We're already doing research within the range of food products. So you might think of sporks, or forks, or straws. And I think that's definitely the next logical step, saying: “Within the edible cutlery space, is there room for more of this?”

You expect the cost to be a little bit more than the plastic spoon. Do you expect that customers will be willing to pay a little extra for it?
Yes. That's our hypothesis. But also...it's more than just the spoon. When you buy an ice cream cone, your cost is a little bit higher, you have a different value that's derived from it. I'm not just buying it because it's holding my ice cream. I'm buying it because I want to eat it.

Our big challenge is that people should buy this in part because it has a strong social mission but also because they genuinely want to buy it. I think if it’s limited in appeal just to people who care about the environment, it could lose a broad sense of support from people who maybe care, but haven't thought about the issue yet. And I want to invite them into the conversation as well.

I hope that our company and our products can empower and inspire other people to rethink radically, to be able to confront the problems of plastic pollution and climate change.


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Poornima Apte, a widely published freelance writer, editor, and book reviewer, is based in the Boston area. Learn more at WordCumulus.com.



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