Peter Horwitz was rather quietly building his Tiger Packaging company when the Plastic Straw Convulsion hit late last year: American consumers rather suddenly were rejecting the idea of plastic straws to sip their Cokes because they were ending up as ocean waste, and plastic straws are a staple provision of Horwitz’s Boca Raton, Florida-based foodservice-supply company.
But Tiger Packaging took the image hit to plastic straws in stride, and Horwitz has continued to promote the availability of more eco-friendly alternatives to full-plastic straws and other forms of packaging. In the meantime, the rapid turn of events has given him new appreciation for how significantly – and abruptly – the changing tides of public opinion can disrupt an entire industry.
“The issue itself isn’t new; our industry is very familiar with recycled and biodegradable products,” Horwitz told Chief Executive. “But for 10 or 15 years our primary requestors [for plastic-straw alternatives] were government-based institutions such as school districts and universities” whose public mandate included more earth-friendliness. For private clients, on the other hand, the packaging business is “all price-based.”
“Fast forward to last year, and suddenly we had much larger consumer awareness, and this thing just exploded,” Horwitz recalled. Paper-straw makers began to drop prices as they scaled up to meet demand – but then booming demand outstripped their capacity. All the players, including Tiger Packaging, have been scrambling to stabilize the supply chain.
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