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Seed & Sprout: Turning a lunchbox dilemma into a sustainability sensation

What do you do when you can’t find a lunch box that abides by the no-disposables policy at your child’s school? If you’re anything like Sophie Kovic, you design one yourself.

Sophie Kovic was thrilled when she learnt her son’s new school had a strong environmental stance that banned single-use items or plastics in their lunches - including the lunch box. It was only when she began shopping for a suitable lunch box that she realised she had her work cut out for her.

None of the lunch boxes on the market ticked her boxes. They either had too many separate parts, were too large or awkwardly shaped or contained non-environmentally friendly materials.

“I used jars, bamboo fibre, pots, tins and bottles. Once I even spent over $100 on a steel lunch box!” she recalls. Necessity is the mother of invention as the saying goes, and so Sophie decided to design her own reusable, stainless steel lunch box.

In the midst of this process, it struck her that she probably wasn’t the only one struggling for an easy way to lead a sustainable lifestyle. Would her lunch box solution have wider appeal and could it be a new business idea? Her instincts told her ‘yes’ but she had to be sure before taking the plunge.

“I needed to gauge interest and see if people would actually buy my product,” she says. “So I put the lunch boxes on Amazon in the US. And it sold.”

In fact, it sold over 3,000 units in four months. By then Sophie knew she had a product that she could offer Australians. Her subsequent Kickstarter campaign reached its target within 48 hours and ended with almost seven times the capital she needed. That marked the birth of Seed & Sprout, a company that focused on reducing reliance on single-use plastic.

The business focus also shifted from Sophie’s original vision. “I initially thought it would be a lunch box company but it turned out to be an eco-products company. Seed & Sprout products are an extension of my own consumer journey of trying to find ways to eliminate plastic from my life.”

“There’s a bit of a gap between wanting to live a more sustainable life and actually putting that into practice. Seed & Sprout provides practical solutions to everyday problems. It’s extremely rewarding to run a business that has makes a real impact.”

Seed & Sprout’s product range now include stainless steel lunch boxes, drink bottles, reusable straws and bags, and silicone fresh food pouches.  

Sharing the load with a delivery partner

The rapidly increasing orders meant having more boxes to pack and cart to the Post Office. At one point Sophie wondered how they’d get orders packed and sent off in time. Then an Australia Post staff told her about Parcel Post, a parcel pick up service. It was exactly what she needed.

“We didn’t even know Australia Post offered a pick-up service!” she says. “It really helped us concentrate on what we need to do which is pack our orders. When we moved to our second location, they would sometimes pick up multiple loads from us. We couldn’t get that number of boxes to the Post Office without investing in a van which I didn’t want to do.”

“Our third and current location falls outside Australia Post’s pick-up zone but they’ve managed to figure out a solution and continue to help us. They’ve been so flexible working with us and this has helped us expand confidently.”

Seed & Sprout currently sends 4,000 parcels per month. International sales make up less than 5% of that total volume and Sophie says they’re looking to make inroads into that market this year.

Customers, community and connection

Seed & Sprout has a solid track record of 5-star reviews, which Sophie attributes to their customer connection just as much as product quality. She hasn’t stopped listening to her customers’ ideas and opinions, and where possible, involves them in large and small business decisions to strengthen their connection to the brand. For instance, she asks them what colours they’d like to see added to the range and selects a few to incorporate.

“We try to facilitate a positive journey to sustainability that’s approachable and non-judgmental,” she says. “We also try to do the right thing by our customers and the earth, even when it’s not easy, and I think our community appreciates that. People want to trust a person, not a company.”

“I think Seed & Sprout is unique in bringing our community behind the scenes. We show them how the business runs - warts and all. Instagram and direct messaging have allowed us to connect with our customers in a way like never before.”

With these tools, we’re able to fluidly communicate with our customers 24/7. It’s bridged the gap between a faceless company and a community of like-minded individuals.”  

Honouring customers’ trust and loyalty also means paying close attention to her suppliers’ business practices to ensure they’re aligned with Seed & Sprout’s.

This paid off when she discovered a few years ago that one of her manufacturers was wrapping individual straws in plastic. Today, all her manufacturing partners must sign a guarantee to not use any plastic packaging in their entire supply chain.

In return for her commitment to ethical business practices, Sophie’s customers are fiercely loyal to Seed & Sprout. So much so that they take it upon themselves to tag Seed & Sprout in any social media account that plagiarises their content.

Last year, a customer alerted Sophie to an Instagram account that was posting her content and directing unsuspecting customers to a copycat website. When Sophie called it out on her Instagram story, customers flooded the other account with angry comments. Within a few hours, both the other Instagram account and the website taken down.

In July 2019, the Seed & Sprout community once again showed their love for the brand by voting for it in the Australia Post ORIAS People’s Choice Award.

Sophie says, "It's an important test for a business to see how they are doing in the eyes of its customers. That's why I think businesses should have a think about entering the People's Choice Awards."

“I nominated Seed & Sprout for the ORIAS because I was curious to see how strong our community really is. I was pretty flabbergasted after our community rallied together against that fraudulent website. It’s incredible that they took the time to stand up for us like that. It proved to me that we are doing something so much bigger than just selling stuff.”