Local company finds big business in paper straws
By Megan Knowles | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
The recent movement to reduce single-use plastic has meant big business for a Fort Wayne company.
Aardvark Straws came to Fort Wayne a little over 10 years ago and began manufacturing paper straws in 2007 when its parent company, Precision Products Group Inc., which manufactures small-size cylindrical tubing solutions, was asked to make a more environmentally friendly straw.
Business has picked up in the past two to three years, especially as of late.
“The biggest growth, exponentially, has been this past year, even since just January,” said Kara Woodring sales representative for Aardvark Straws.
She believes this uptick is because more consumers are aware of the harmful effects of plastics.
“People are now becoming more aware of all the plastics that are washing up on beaches,” Woodring said. “More people are taking vacations and seeing plastic pollution on these beaches, in the rivers, outside and doing more activities. Before, most people weren’t aware of harmful effects of plastic.”
In addition to reaching customers at trade shows and through outbound marketing, Aardvark also partners with community groups, such as the Allen County Department of Environmental Management, to give samples of their products to restaurants who might be interested in switching from plastic straws. Woodring said the company has more than 100 such community partnerships.
“The no plastic straws campaign is just kind of one who’s time has come,” ACDEM Business Technical Coordinator Jodi Leamon said. “It’s really taking off. … It’s just spreading for sure.”
Paper straws have an advantage over plastic straws in that they break down wherever they are.
“Most cities don’t have a commercial composting facility,” Woodring said. “So whenever they’re using a plastic straw or a throwaway utensil, they know that their consumers aren’t going to recycle it or get it into a composter that is the correct stream. Our paper straws can go into any trash stream, whether they go into a landfill, a composter, a recycler – it doesn’t really matter, they all break down the same way. No matter where it goes accidentally, it will break down naturally.”
Aardvark Straws has done tests for backyard and marine compostability, Woodring said. Results showed that their straws broke down in six months in a backyard setting and in two years in a marine environment.
Aardvark Straws uses 30 percent more material than its competitors, Woodring said, meaning the straws don’t break down as quickly when in use.
“We consistently try to make sure that our straws are holding up within three to four hours if not longer,” she said. “Every couple of months we look back at our product, do some tests, and make sure that they still hold up, that there’s no new products that have come out that will make them stronger or more eco-friendly.”
All of its material for its paper comes from sustainable forests, Woodring said, adding the company plants two trees for each one it cuts down.
“We are a sustainable company,” she said. “I think everybody really believes the less we use of single-use materials, the better our Earth will eventually be because there will be less waste.”
The company even recommends its restaurant customers offer straws by request only, rather than handing them to every customer automatically.
“That’s something that our corporate really believes in,” Woodring said. “If you cut down on the usage, you’re going to cut down on the cost and everybody wins that way. So restaurants don’t have to worry about that new product cost.”
Restaurant customers can also customize their straws, at a minimum of 20,000, with their own images or labels.
“We print digitally, so we can print as many colors as the customers want,” Woodring said. “We print very fine details so really crisp logos have looked great on our straws to add another touch of branding. Where most products in their restaurants can’t be branded, and because the straws are consistently touched, it becomes one of the best touch points for marketing for a lot of the restaurants who have gone to customization.”
The company has received positive feedback from its customers.
“Our customers are loving it,” Woodring said. “They’re getting great feedback from their customers because of their eco-friendly perspective. The customers normally love the design or colors if the customer has chosen to do a fun design for a specialty cocktail or something. They’ve been very happy with the quality and have even expressed that they’ve used paper straws as kids or at other companies and they didn’t last near as long as ours have.”
Woodring was unable to provide information on whether this uptick in interest would result in more employees or production for the company.
The company moved from Maryland, bringing with it the design for the original patented paper straw, which was first made in 1888, according to Aardvark Straw’s website.