Even bad times can have an upside and for what's thought to be New Zealand's first pure bamboo toilet paper company, the coronavirus has turbo-charged its sales debut.
EcoRoll, which offers 100 per cent plastic-free product and packaging, home delivery and a subscription service, sold more toilet rolls in the first week of March than in the entire previous month, said managing director James Calver. Website visits shot up 141 per cent on February.
Panic buying of toilet rolls has been a feature of global consumer response to the virus, which has officially been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.
The EcoRoll brand and service, an associate business of Auckland's Ecoware company which specialises in plant-based, compostable packaging products, launched in September and sales have grown around 150 per cent month on month since, Calver said.
He attributes the sales growth to a general consumer backlash against plastic's impact on the environment, particularly waterways, and to a noticeable surge in the past two years in consumer interest in sustainable sources of product.
The more recent rush on online sales he attributes to people not wanting to fight it out at supermarkets, shopping online to avoid bugs, and householders not wanting to be left short and wanting a confirmed and regular delivery to their door.
EcoRoll's bamboo is sourced from China and is Forest Stewardship Council-registered.
The company said FSC is the highest level of forestry management certification in the world. FSC is a non-profit organisation that tracks the entire supply chain of certified wood, paper and bamboo product to ensure it has been responsibly sourced.
EcoRoll is made from 100 per cent FSC certified bamboo and to Calver's knowledge is the only pure bamboo toilet paper on offer in New Zealand. Other "sustainable" brands combine bamboo with cheaper, unregistered sugar cane and recycled paper, he said.
The 2-ply rolls are $52 for 48 plus $5 shipping. Subscribers, using the company's algorithm which works out when they need to restock, get a 10 per cent discount.
Despite being made in China where the coronavirus originated and where manufacturing lockdowns have paralysed product supplies to and from New Zealand, there are plenty of bamboo toilet rolls in stock, and a new shipment is due next week, Calver said.
Most buyers so far have been Aucklanders, but this month demand has come from around New Zealand, he said. The company is poised to warehouse from Wellington and Christchurch.
Calver said the product was the result of an "ah ha" moment within Ecoware, which he also heads.
"We are well aware of the environmental crisis so rapidly evolving around us and two of the key issues we looked at were plastic in waterways and deforestation.
"Traditional toilet paper was being made and manufactured from hardwood that takes years to grow and is used for a matter of seconds and then flushed away.
"We wanted a certified supply chain and ethical sourcing."
At this rate, Calver expects the new venture to turn a profit in its first year, "however we are in uncertain times".
He hopes to take the product overseas "once we get the wheels bolted on here properly" as there had been strong interest from Australia, Hong Kong and the UK, he said.
The EcoRoll launch investment has been around $100,000 so far, he said.
Ecoware employs about 12 people at Freeman's Bay. The company uses third parties for logistics and distribution.