Sustainability Agenda: Why this startup chose pine needles to make tableware
Growing up in Himachal Pradesh, Abhinav Talwar has witnessed several forest fires caused by the accumulation of pine needles from the pine trees.
While pine trees are useful in procuring timber and turpentine from resin, among other uses, the pine needles don’t serve any specific purpose. In fact, the surrounding climate, dryness of the region, and accumulation of pine needles are known to cause forest fires.
Abhinav came across another company, Avani, which addressed this problem by converting pine needles into biogas. However, Abhinav wanted to bring more awareness about these issues and bring down the carbon footprint.
He started Vasshin Composites along with Bhoomi Thakkar in 2019. The startup aims to replace plastics with goods made out of pine needles. The Delhi-headquartered startup also aims to create awareness about sustainability with them.
Co-founders Abhinav Talwar and Bhoomi Thakkar
Vasshin Agro Composites
Through their brand Vasshin Agro Composites, founded in 2020, the startup produces tableware and cutlery, including plates, trays, glasses, bowls, etc which ranges anywhere between Rs 350 and Rs 1500 depending on the product. It also makes sustainable Lego blocks with pines to cater to children.
This month, it introduced mobile holders made out of pine needles and will soon launch cutting boards.
“Our products are completely sustainable, and we have been able to get rid of 99.3 percent of the bacteria, fungus and viruses that may land on our products” Abhinav claims.
These products are made from a blend of pine needles with metals, and other minerals. In fact, something as small as a coffee mug can capture over 7 kg of carbon, thereby reducing carbon footprint, Abhinav shares.
While the products are durable, they may degrade over regular usage. However, Vasshin’s products would decompose easily compare to plastic tableware and cutlery.
In fact, the startup is working to get a patent for making anti-viral products, which can be used for the long term and would not need an additional coat of anti-viral film in the future.
Some of the sustainable products by Vasshin Composites
Vasshin sources pine needles with the help of the locals in Himachal Pradesh. It pays these workers twice the wage they used to earn before. Besides, it has provided them with a jeep that helps them transport large loads of raw material.
The startup has three manufacturing units at Baroda, Ahmedabad, and Mysore, where it processes the raw materials to manufacture its usable products. Abhinav claims the company ships its product all over India.
The bootstrapped startup was invited to showcase its products at the ChangeNow 2021 in Paris — a global sustainability event that selects 300 startups from around the world to showcase their designs and products.
“A common theme that emerged from this was the green premium on sustainable products must come down, and the greed of channels that distribute such products to bring these out as more mass-market options rather than restricted to disposables,” Abhinav explains.
It was also invited to participate in the London Design Biennale 2021. Abhinav says Vasshin will soon launch in the European retail market in the coming months.
Some of the forest rangers gathering the pine needles
“We also joined hands with Alumiceal Co, Canada, which is the third-largest manufacturer of foil and consumer-led products in Canada. This partnership is expected to bring immense opportunities and is a step up for Agro Composites,” the co-founder adds.
Vasshin Composites has also tied up with the Juma Al Maktoum group for product distribution in the UAE.
Some of the competitors in the sustainable tableware space are Bambu, Ecoware, Zungleboo, among others. However, Vasshin stands out for its usage of pine needles, which is durable, anti-viral, and has a bigger cause of preventing forest fires.
Recently, Vasshin Composite raised a minor investment round.
“A two-week window was assigned and 20 investors were inducted. All of them are either CEO or executive members of prominent companies, famed entrepreneurs, or social and environment crusaders,” Abhinav shares.
Anuj Pandey, one of the investors and the CEO of Himalaya Books, says, "I thought it was a great way to contibute towards the environment while living in cities, by helping such companies grow by using their products."
Challenges and the road ahead
While R&D and product development were the easy parts, the company faced challenges while marketing its products. For this, Co-founder Bhoomi Thakkar formulated a strategy to reach out to more people and get more traction. She helped build the CRM platform, a proper social media strategy and identified what worked best for its audiences.
In 2020, when the company had just started, its balance was about Rs 1,900. However, within six months, the company saw about Rs 1 crore turnover.
In fact, the company plans to reach a revenue of about Rs 20 crore by the end of this financial year. Moreover, with Vasshin now expanding its reach beyond India, Abhinav is hopeful the company will do business of Rs 100 crore in about two to three years.
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