Sustainable Packaging Innovation



Show Summary

In today’s conversation, we discuss Kate Stewart's journey of founding Stay Tray and her company's commitment to sustainability. She shares how technology helped her company gain credibility in the market and tangibly quantify the product’s sustainability claims. Finally, we discuss her commitment towards helping “people and planet” and how that affects each decision made as she builds her company. I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful conversation with Kate, so let’s hop right in! 

 

You can learn more about Stay Tray at: https://staytray.com.au/

About the guest speaker

Kate Stewart is the owner & founder of Stay Tray, a reusable drink tray. 

She spent most of her career in FMCG working with major retailers & witnessed copious amounts of waste, prompting a career change in the pursuit of something more fulfilling. 

Stay tray is all about reducing single use, all through the humble beverage tray.  Stay tray is a sustainable solution to single use, proudly made in Australia from 100% recycled material. 

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Transcript

Suzana Tripologos:

In today's episode, I talk with Kate Stewart, the owner and founder of Stay Tray, a company that produces the reusable drink tray. Kate spent most of her career in fast moving consumer goods working with major retailers, and witnessed copious amounts of waste prompting a career change in the pursuit of something more fulfilling. Stay Tray is all about reducing single use all through the humble beverage tray. Stay Tray is a sustainable solution to single use, proudly made in Australia from 100% recycled material. In today's conversation, we discuss Kate's journey of founding Stay Tray and her company's commitment to sustainability. She shares how technology helped her company gain credibility in the market and tangibly quantify the product sustainability claims. Finally, we discuss her commitment towards helping people and planet, and how that affects each decision made as she builds her company. I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful conversation with Kate, so let's hop right in.

Suzana Tripologos:

Hi, Kate. It's really nice to have you here today. Thank you for joining us. Really excited too talk to you about Stay Tray and to learn more about your business and the product that you make. And so let's get started. And if you could share with us or tell us about your journey to start Stay Tray. How did you get the idea? What really prompted you to do this?

Kate Stewart:

Thanks, Suzana, and really nice to be with you also today. Stay Tray was an idea that I'd sat on for a little while. I was heavily immersed in the corporate world, having worked for a major organization. And across the 17 years or so that I was there, I witnessed the copious amounts of waste every day. And so when I was in that workplace, I would witness people doing the coffee run, and there was a real shift towards sustainability and being more mindful of our everyday consumption. So I go with my work colleagues who take our keep cups along, and what felt rather counterintuitive was that everyone whilst doing their coffee run was grabbing a cardboard tray, and whilst a product that is very much recyclable, it felt like it was being disposed of every day.

Kate Stewart:

And so it kind of felt like whilst in one regard we were seeing this real step change to more consciously making sure that we were managing our own respective footprints, we were disposing of something. And so I sat on that idea for a little while and made the decision to walk away from the corporate world. Having two very small children at the time, it was a job that I'd loved for a long time, but felt that the commute and the travel just wasn't sustainable, for want of a better word, with the family life that we had at that time. So walked away and set on the idea of Stay Tray. Started talking to family and friends about whether this could be something that would really make a difference for people and planet, whether it's something that people would buy into. And that's where Stay Tray started a few years ago now.

Suzana Tripologos:

What a great story. I think a lot of us can relate to that same situation being in the corporate world and seeing how a lot of paper products go to waste, or in your situation, that type of tray product. So I think we see that when we're around and in the corporate world, and running on lunch breaks, et cetera. So was there a defining moment though, was an aha moment, where you just knew it was time to move away from your current role in the corporate world and to start your own business? Was there a hesitation in doing that? Because you had great reasons as to why you wanted to, but at what point did you say, I'm ready to do this?

Kate Stewart:

Yeah. So I think it was a combination of a couple of things. So I'd worked for the same business for a really long time, and my time and friendships there were fantastic. But having a young family, commuting more than three hours a day, doing domestic travel, often not seeing my children every morning, and at best getting to read them a bedtime story, and we're talking toddlers, it just didn't feel like the right thing for me. So I made the bold decision to walk away thinking that I would pursue something with Stay Tray, but not really having an understanding of how best that would work and what that might look like.

Kate Stewart:

And it was really post making that decision and immersing myself in what became a far bigger industry than I ever anticipated. It really had me thinking, yeah, I need to do something. I need to do something that will potentially leave a legacy for my kids. I think about the copious amounts of plastic that still exist in our society because every piece of plastic ever created still exists today. So I wanted to be part of that solution and potentially look to rehome some of that plastic, whilst also cutting down on the single use, whether that be plastic, paper, cardboard that we use every day.

Suzana Tripologos:

Sure. And if we could talk a little bit about the sustainability of the Stay Tray product versus your one use drink tray, how was that measured? Between the two different types of products, how do you measure that?

Kate Stewart:

So the really interesting thing was that when I embarked upon this, I wanted to make sure that our Stay Tray wasn't just rehoming the world's redundant plastic, but it also meant that it had a really low footprint. And so for me, having a sales and marketing background, it was very much out of my comfort zone to understand, okay, how do I go about doing this? And it was at a point that I connected with the Ekodecks team in Melbourne to talk about a lifecycle analysis. So when we wanted to start producing Stay Tray, we knew that A, we wanted to have a product that was made from 100% recycled material. But it felt like if we were going to do that offshore, by the time we sent the recycled material there, had it manufactured, brought it back to Australia, that its footprint would be, for want of a better term, kind of blown out of the water.

Kate Stewart:

So in order to make sure that we had a really low, sustainable footprint and minimize the amount of water consumption, energy consumption, we needed to do everything locally. So that meant sourcing the material locally. It meant working with local companies and contractors in the area of their expertise, so toolmakers, not going to China to create [inaudible], which is what the majority of people and industries do. Making sure that we could use local production. So when I connected with Ecodex and I started telling them about the fact that we'd done everything within a 50K radius, for starters, they were so pleasantly surprised because it's not common practice. But they were really energized to work with us to understand, okay, so what's the so what? What does that mean? Given that we know that we've done everything locally, surely that has to have a positive impact on what they call a breakeven point.

selerant-life-cycle-assessment-ecodex-case-study

 

Kate Stewart:

So the work that we did with Ecodex was all about understanding the water and energy consumption, so to the greenhouse gas emissions, and how many times you would actually need to reuse a Stay Tray versus that of a disposable cardboard tray. The really pleasing result was that after all of their research and findings, it came back between seven and eight usages would break even on all of those considerations and consumptions, which blew my mind.

Suzana Tripologos:

Wow. Yeah. That's amazing that it can be measured. And I think that's an amazing story that you're producing this locally in Australia. That says a lot. So we know Stay Tray replaces the disposable drink carrier that everyone's pretty familiar with in the fast food industry. So how does educating the consumer on the environmental impact fit into your work?

Kate Stewart:

So we've found with Stay Tray, education around the consumer has been a really interesting one. Most individuals are really curious when it comes to Stay Tray. So it's one of those products that catches the eye. And so when people see it, they're like, that's fabulous. Often we get a feedback from our consumers that own a Stay Tray that go to their local coffee every day, and they're saying that every day they're stopped and asked what this amazing product is. So a lot of our product comes about word of mouth. It's when people land on our page or see our social media, that they then realize we actually make this product locally. We actually use 100% recycled material. And for anyone that is a little bit curious about the product and tries to make assumptions, they learn and we recruit them really quickly to say, oh, actually this is an opportunity for us to rehome some of that redundant waste.

Kate Stewart:

So to your point earlier about the Australian made and 100% recycled material, I am really proud to be able to say that. And it feels like even if there are people that aren't necessarily going to use Stay Tray, I understand that it's not for everyone, they're really supportive of the action that we're trying to do. The other piece, there is not just the consumer, but businesses. We've found that we've been able to recruit businesses and really get them on board with the support of this life cycle analysis. So not only can we talk to the fact that it's locally grown, so when we're talking to Australian businesses, we can talk to the fact that we're able to create potentially a circular economy for their business. But when they actually see the lifecycle analysis, that's when we really get cut through. We're able to then talk to their sustainability teams with confidence, and essentially build the credibility that we know exists with our Stay Tray.

Suzana Tripologos:

Oh, that's really fascinating actually. And I love hearing that. And we know that necessity can breed innovation. So as you've built this product and you've come along this journey, are there any processes that you've discovered along the way that you'll be able to share with others? So it could be anything from sustainability in the sourcing, production, manufacturing or shipping. As you go through those various steps to produce a product and get it out the door, are there any processes that you'd like to share with us that you've discovered while you made this journey?

Kate Stewart:

Yeah. I mean, this has been an enormous learning curve. Coming from what I said earlier, a sales and marketing background, I knew nothing about the packaging industry. So I thought that I would go to someone, they might make a product for me and that would be the end of it. Little did I know that there are companies that reclaim plastic and were able to tap into those resources. So for anyone that is wanting to bring to life a product, there's an opportunity for them to do so using reclaimed post-consumer and post-industrial waste, which is really exciting. The other piece for me that has been really exciting is when we're working with some of the larger businesses, we're actually able to take their post-consumer waste and rehome it in our Stay Tray. So that means that not only do we create a circular solution, but waste that would be definitively going to landfill is actually able to be reclaimed in our products.

Kate Stewart:

So that's another thing that I think is worth sharing. People probably don't know what opportunities exists out there, and it's only through tapping into the amazing talent and innovation that exists in our society and better understanding those. I have a great peer and industry network, and we share many, many learnings. LinkedIn's a great platform for that. I have businesses reach out to me often to say, we have this type of plastic. We don't really know what to do with it. Is there any way we can incorporate that into your tray? And they can then have that land in their environment as a branded proposition that they can use for gifting, marketing events or just everyday consumption in their workplace.

Suzana Tripologos:

That's so cool. I love that. That's so great. And I have to ask about when you first started versus where you are today, from your prototype to where the product is, have you seen a lot of change from the first prototype, or is it were you pretty much, you got it from the beginning? How has that changed?

Kate Stewart:

Oh, I would love to say that we got it from the beginning. Because my background, because I'm not an industrial designer or engineer, we were reliant on the local talent that we were working with. So we had the idea, and I dare say it was probably 20 or so prototypes later that we think, okay, we've got it. So we wanted to make sure that if we were bringing about change, positive change that would see the reduction in potential elimination of single use in the plastic and disposable cardboard trays, we wanted to make sure our tray was as versatile as possible. So when we have our Stay Tray, we launched with what we thought was a really great solution, but over the years, we've reinvented that to have an insert that sinks into the tray, so it means that it will hold 99% of cups, coffees, a kombucha style bottle, a can of soft drink. So it just means it's really versatile.

Kate Stewart:

And we see that versatility through the different types of usage. So when people tag our social media, you might see that someone is down the beach and they've got their kid's drink bottles in it so that there's no more sandy drinks on the beach. You might see that you've got the tradies taking it to their workplace, just doing their morning coffee run. There's so many different options. We see people using it through McDonald's drive through often, and Hungry Jacks and many of the other fast food suppliers. We will often take ours, we keep one in the car, we keep one in the beach bag. We've always got to Stay Tray handy. And we see that for many other families. So it's certainly very versatile and we're really proud of that.

Kate Stewart:

But a lot of that has come through the many, many different versions of prototyping, which requires additional tooling. But I think for the long run, it's certainly worth it. And I think the interesting insight that we've had is, whilst we've been able to launch on other platforms like Amazon, and that's been really successful, we understand that there's different usages in different markets. So the consumer in the U.S. typically has bigger drink bottles. So it might be that we kind of reinvent Stay Tray there for that particular market.

Suzana Tripologos:

Wow. Yeah. I'm sure it's a staple in your house, wherever you go there's one.

Kate Stewart:

It sure is.

Suzana Tripologos:

Would you mind sharing with us maybe the biggest challenges or barriers that you faced with developing the final product? I mean, or maybe it's not just developing the product, but what did you face as far as a big challenge through this process?

Kate Stewart:

Yeah. There were many challenges thrown at us on the way. So resilience was key in kind of stumbling as best we could crossed those or ensuring that we didn't sort of hit a roadblock and not kind of continue with the project. The financial challenge is no doubt one that we faced. So because we wanted to keep everything local, it meant that there were slightly high costs with regards to tooling. But if I've learned anything along the way, it's that you can't compromise quality. And so we knew that if we were working with a local toolmaker, that we had the option and the access to be able to see the progress each and every day, we had a warranty in place. And it meant that whilst we were spending slightly more, we have a quality assurance that came with that. So the financial hurdle and challenge was certainly one.

Kate Stewart:

The skepticism. I understand that not everybody needs a Stay Tray, not everybody understands what we're trying to do with Stay Tray. But I think that certainly our intent has been really clear in that we want to provide a more sustainable solution, and how great that reaches determines by consumers acceptance and business acceptance. And thus far, we've been really pleased that a business as young as we are have got some cut-through and we're able to have conversations, albeit early stages with large organizations on how we can step change their footprint. So for all the challenges that we come across, I feel like being really deliberate in some of the choices that we've made. And so to making sure that we've really resilient and sort of put our best foot forward, it puts us in pretty good stead to get the business outcome and result. And understanding that it's not an overnight success. So the conversations that we've been having that lead to trials in markets can often take two or three years. And so embracing the fact that it may just be that 10 year overnight success is something that we've come to understand.

Suzana Tripologos:

So Kate, if you wouldn't mind, I'd love to see the product. Maybe you could show it to us, give us a little snippet of what it looks like.

Kate Stewart:

Fantastic. So we touched obviously on how we've innovated Stay Tray. So this is very much our original Stay Tray, our four cup holder, which is really lightweight, obviously made from the 100% recycled material and made locally. We created it so that the centerpiece here pops out and it's an opportunity for businesses to place their brand on there. So it's a really nice way for companies to get brand reach and put their logo there. Over the years, we've innovated and we've incorporated a Stay Tray two cup solution to the Stay Tray family. It also comes with inserts. So we now have the little inserts here that pop out. You simply keep them in if you have a smaller item, like a can or a kombucha style bottle. And if you've got your larger water bottles or coffee cups, you pull them out. So we feel like it really caters to most drinks and beverages, and really excited as to how far it's come.

Suzana Tripologos:

Yeah. It looks very versatile actually to accommodate no matter what size drink you have. So that's great.

Kate Stewart:

Thank you. Thanks.

Suzana Tripologos:

As you look into the future, do you think that you'll have an extended product line, something similar to Stay Tray? Or are you thinking this is the only product you're going to develop? And then going into the future, when it comes to helping people in planet, that this is the direction that you want to take? Or do you maybe envision in the future that it'll expand to other products as well?

Kate Stewart:

Yeah, great question. I think that we've had many idea along the way as to what would a fantastic suite of Stay Tray products look like, and I think it extends itself really well naturally to other channels. So we have in prototype stage, an idea for the hospitality industry. So to support the safety and services of hot beverages and cold beverages in pubs, if you like. So if you think about the wait staff that are delivering upwards of eight glasses, it's often in challenging environment whereby you've got a busy restaurant. So what could a solution look like there? So we're working on that. We've been really fortunate to work with an airline, albeit pre COVID, to talk about how we improve the safety and service of hot beverages in flight.

Kate Stewart:

It's probably been a long time since we've all been on a plane. But if you think about if you grab a tea or a coffee on a plane, it's often delivered on one of those flat trays, and everyone gets a little bit nervous and it's very strict instruction not to touch the tray. We think that Stay Tray could really reinvent that space. And it lends itself to other opportunities in rail, having Stay Trays placed on the back of seats so people can confidently put their cups in there, and it will house a many different variety of vessels. So plenty of opportunity. It's a really exciting space. Our focus is certainly on the trials that we have in place at the moment with our four cup solution and our two cups solution. And yeah, very much what this space over the next five or so years as to what the evolution of Stay Tray looks like.

Suzana Tripologos:

Yeah. I can't wait to find out. And I'm really grateful that you are here today with us, and I really enjoyed learning more about your product and your business. And it's such a fascinating story. And I look forward to touching base with you in the future and learning more about how your business is going to evolve from here. And I thank you again.

Kate Stewart:

Fabulous, Suzana. Appreciate your time. Thank you.

Suzana Tripologos:

You've been listening to the CPG Innovation Podcast. You'll find complete bios for today's guests, as well as links to their work on our website. While you're there, check out past episodes and additional content on fast moving consumer goods. Make sure to subscribe to our channel wherever you listen so you don't miss an episode. The CPG Innovation Podcast is presented by Selerant. I'm your host, Suzana Tripologos. Thanks so much for joining us. See you next time.