Industry Leaders Forum: Jas and Simren Kohli, Founders, Ecobags

How was 2020 for Ecobags? What were the highlights? What were the challenges?

Jas: The pandemic and subsequent lockdown was challenging. We had to reorganise parts of our business, but we were able to keep up relatively steady supply. It also stimulated us get to know our customers all over again, as their needs changed over the course of the year. I think those of us who weathered the storm together are stronger for; it has deepened our relationships and commitment to our regular customers.

Simren: For us, one of the highlights was having the space to focus our energy on new product development. It’s allowed us to introduce new compostable cling wrap products and reformat our popular bamboo cleaning cloths to larger packs, which are more suitable for industry customers. We have lots of ideas but don’t always have the luxury of time to see them through to fruition.

How did Ecobags adjust to the impact of the pandemic?

Jas: The biggest adaptation we’ve made is in how we approach our inventory. We’re very conscious of minimising interruptions to supply so that’s meant increasing stock holdings and closely analysing every step in the supply chain to identify where shortages or delays might happen. That cautious, highly considered approach has worked for us – we were able to keep products moving through the door when so many of our partners and competitors ran dry.

Simren: We also had to adapt our business and IT systems to allow our staff the safety of working from home. And they, in turn, had to change the way they worked.

What will be the immediate focus for Ecobags in 2021?

Simren: The few industry events we were lucky enough to attend have shown us that there is still demand and enthusiasm for sustainable products. So, we want to keep putting innovative, eco-friendly alternatives in front of people. To do that successfully in 2021, and beyond, we’re going to need to grow our online presence.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for Ecobags over the next 12 months?

Jas: Like so many industries, we’re likely to have some supply issues challenging us this year. Of course, so many businesses are in that same boat so for those of us that can secure good supply of quality product there’s opportunity. We’ve countered the risk of supply issues by diversifying our supply chain, and we have a broad product portfolio, so we’re doing what we can keep our customers’ needs satisfied.

Simren: We will also continue to expand our compostable and reusable product ranges. Every time we think we’re done with NPD for a while someone comes up with a great new idea that’s worthy of exploring! The world is evolving, the products we use is ever changing, and we will continue to keep in front of that curve.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for the industry over the next 12 months?

Jas: Change always presents some challenges. It’s fair to say the pandemic has changed the world. Add to that our awakening towards sustainability, and you have significant change the industry must evolve and adapt to. I hope that the cleaning industry will rise to the challenges and opportunities that both change and sustainability present. Whether that means embracing new cleaning guidelines or investing in products closer to home.

What do you expect will be the big product trends of 2021?

Jas: I think the move towards recyclable and reusable products will continue to grow. We’ve seen this in consumer products over the past 24 months and I think we’ll start to see commercial customers going the same way this year.

Simren: A lot of businesses have also adapted to online channels in response to the COVID-19 lockdowns. I think growth in e-commerce and virtual interactions is likely to continue.

Looking at the future – both short and long term – what do you see, as far as changes and adjustments, that the global cleaning industry must embrace?

Jas: It’s hard for us to comment on the global industry as the New Zealand community is in a far different place to that of countries still in the height of fighting the pandemic. However, the pandemic has fundamentally changed our expectations of hygiene and cleanliness – in the workplace, at home, and even in public spaces. So even if New Zealand has no community transmission for now, the maintenance of these standards is essential.

What is one issue the industry should urgently address in 2021?

Simren: Moving forward a focus on education is key; for business owners as well as end users. People may have gained an understanding of why we need improve cleaning practices, but it would be great to expand on that and teach people about the impact cleaning and sanitation products have on human and environmental health.

What additional advice or guidance do you have for the cleaning community now and after the pandemic?

Jas: From an outsider’s point of view, the only guidance we could give is to encourage industry players to find a balance between maintaining stringent cleaning standards and being conscious consumers. This is certainly something we hope to contribute to with great new products over the coming year.

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