Q: Crown Poly got its start in the 1990s with a grocery product that I'm sure everyone has used. But they may not know that Crown Polly invented it. Tell us about the company's beginnings.
Browne: The owner of our company, Abraham Simhaee, had a distribution company and he used to import products, including produce bags, and he hated it. They were very poor quality. He had lots of returns, and it was just a problem. He's an inventor, and he decided to invent a new system. He studied the produce bag market and determined the bags were too small. They had originated in Southeast Asia. People there have different shopping habits than Americans. So, he changed the bag, made it much larger, put it in a dispenser, which was patented.
We started selling, we started producing and the rest is history. And 29 years later, we are the largest single produce bag manufacturer in one facility. We ship worldwide. We ship to all seven continents. We have majority market share in the United States. You can go to Dubai and see our bag. You can go to South America and see our bag. You can certainly go to Europe and see our bag. It's been a great journey.
Q: Grocery stores have been one of the few places where everyone can go. Has that meant an uptick in sales or greater demand for your Pull-N-Pak bags?
Browne: It was instant. Starting in March, there was certainly panic buying. Consumers flocked to the store to buy disinfectant wipes and toilet paper. They also ended up buying food. Certainly, there was an uptick overall in grocery sales and also produce sales. Consumers also switched to online shopping, including groceries. They did not want to have to go into the store to be exposed. They don't want to have to wait in line.
I think the uptick in supermarket sales will be permanent. I think consumers will realize that shopping and eating at home is more cost-effective. And from a sanitation standpoint, they'll feel more comfortable. So, I think that will be a permanent shift. How much of the online stays permanent? What percent it'll stay up? I'm not sure. But, yes, we definitely saw an immediate increase in business shifting from restaurant to supermarket and home cooking. And I think everybody can attest to the number of Instagram stories of all their friends making sourdough bread and baking.
Q: Crown Poly makes several products under the sustainability header. Do you see an emphasis on sustainability lessening because of the virus? Perhaps people might be less concerned with recyclability or compostability?
Browne: That's a great question. For us, we were green before green was in. When we started 29 years ago, the average produce bag was 11/12 micron and we downgauged it. We strongly believe in source reduction, and we downgauged to seven microns. From the beginning, we felt the superior performance or the beauty of plastics is its performance in thin gauges. We believed produce bags could be thinner. We believed front-end bags could be thinner and stronger and you don't have to double bag.
Certainly, in the past five years, we've been very keen on sustainability and finding solutions for our customers and proposing recycled content or compostable. In the last year, we came out with a very popular ocean plastic recycled line. With coronavirus, I think that issue is going to be secondary right now. The other beauty of plastics is, in a civilized society, we want to always advance, and sanitation and hygiene is one of those super benefits of plastics. And that is something I think everybody's reminded of during the time of this pandemic.
Q: Talk a little bit more about your product made from ocean plastics. What's the future for those types of products for Crown Poly?
Browne: I found out about this product at a conference. When I heard about it, I was immediately excited and talked to the supplier and said, "This is great. I think we can really do a lot with it."
From a consumer standpoint, I think it's such a visible kind of blight, and the environmentalists have certainly over and over castigated plastic for being in the ocean. They tried to put in textbooks in California the picture of a T-shirt bag over the ocean Pacific Ocean. This is the kind of the lessons young people are learning about plastics in the ocean. So, I think for consumers to understand that the plastic can be collected off the beach and made into other plastic products, upcycled if you will something that immediately the average consumer can understand.
Adidas sold over a million pairs of sneakers last year made out of ocean plastic. Windex went with a 100 percent ocean plastic bottle for their natural vinegar-based product. There's multiple examples now of ocean plastics being used in consumer brands to obviously positive reception. So, it's an easy-to-understand concept where some of the other concepts that are super sustainable are not necessarily as easily understood by consumers. And it's one that creates a lot of excitement.
So, the average mom out there who wants to use plastic products because it's convenient, it's sanitary, and all of the great things about plastic but has kind of an emotional guilt about it. The ocean plastics really fills that void of providing a great sanitary product that's super effective from a climate change carbon emission standpoint, water usage, all of these green reasons to use it. But they can say to their friend, "Hey, it's made out of ocean plastic and is taking plastic into the ocean." You get that emotionally positive or satisfying feeling as well.