OHIO (Oct. 21, 2009)—The "green" movement is easy to embrace but sometimes harder to implement. For restaurants, the not-so-green foam carryout container is a case in point. But containers made from sugar cane and corn waste -- which are biodegradable or compostable—are available, and a group of Ohioans have formed a company to import one manufacturer's products from China.
Green Globe EcoPak President Sharma Hipkiss hopes to market them to central Ohio's restaurants, delis and groceries and to make them available to consumers.
Many similar products are also available from Sysco Central Ohio, U.S. Food Service and Gordon Food Service, among others, but Green Globe has its roots in central Ohio, and an Ohioan, Sterling LeFevre, is working in China with the manufacturer, Su Binglong of Quanzhou.
LeFevre, who lives in China, is CEO of the startup. Brother Scott LeFevre is executive managing director in Columbus.
Hipkiss is confident that the products will sell in this market, and that a local provider can do well against the giant food-service companies.
"Our new government is more in tune with eco-friendly pursuits, and this is the perfect time to begin selling this," he said.
Mike Schaefer, category leader for nonfoods and beverage at Gordon Food Service, agreed, adding that the call for ecologically friendly packaging has grown into a "pretty strong movement."
Even so, he said, "It's difficult for somebody who owns a hot-dog stand to see value in converting from a foam clamshell-type product to something that's going to biodegrade."
Some restaurateurs, such as Kevin Malhame at the Northstar Cafes and Elizabeth Lessner at Betty's Fine Food & Spirits, have been using "green" carryout containers for years.
"Eight years ago, the price was astronomical," said Lessner, who buys her products from U.S. Food Service. "But it's gotten cheaper than Styrofoam or the other alternatives."
Green Globe's pricing, Hipkiss said, is akin to the difference between a store brand and a name brand. Suggested retail pricing for a pack of 35 seven-inch plates is $2.45, and 25 large bowls would be $2.50.
Lessner and Debra Hamernick, president and CEO of Sysco Central Ohio, both recalled that products used 40 years ago for wrapping food, such as aluminum foil and old newspapers, are much more recyclable now than products in common use today.
Hamernick expects her company's line of "green" products to blossom, too.
"It's like buying local produce: Everybody talks about it, but it takes awhile before people are doing it," she said.
Green Globe is providing its products to O'Shaughnessy's Public House in the Arena District and Westshore Pizza on Sawmill Road in Dublin, where Hipkiss said customers seem quite pleased.
"We don't have pizza boxes yet," she said, "but they're coming."