Head Start

Ooho: Edible Water Bottles for Races

June 28, 2021 Race Directors HQ Episode 7
Head Start
Ooho: Edible Water Bottles for Races
Show Notes Transcript

When it comes to waste in the endurance events industry, water bottles are the big plastic elephant in the room. So it’s no surprise that a great deal of effort has recently been going into finding ways to tackle the problem of plastic bottle waste in races.

Today, we're talking to Lise Honsinger, CFO & COO of Notpla, a UK-based company pioneering the use of edible packaging. Notpla’s flagship edible sachet, Ooho, has been used in the London Marathon and many other races across the world with great success as a totally safe, naturally biodegradable substitute for plastic bottles. So it’s a great treat to have Lise tell us more about it today.

Things covered in this episode:

  • A short history of Notpla, the company revolutionizing edible packaging
  • What is Ooho? What is it made of? What liquids can it hold? How do you consume it?
  • Ooho as an alternative to water bottles in races
  • Runner feedback from using Ooho in the London Marathon
  • Getting Ooho for you race: How many will you need? How much does it cost? How can you order?
  • The future of Notpla and Ooho

Thanks to GiveSignup|RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 21,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about GiveSignup|RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.

You can find more free resources on planning, promoting and organizing  races on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com.

You can also share your questions about sustainability, reducing bottle waste or anything else in our race directors Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Panos:

Hi! Welcome to Head Start, the podcast for race directors and the business of putting on races. When it comes to waste in the endurance events industry, water bottles are the big plastic elephant in the room. So its no surprise that a great deal of effort has recently been going into finding ways to tackle the problem of plastic bottle waste in races. Today, Ill be talking to Lise Honsinger, CFO & COO of Notpla, a UK-based company pioneering the use of edible packaging. Notplas flagship edible sachet, Ooho, has been used in the London Marathon and many other races across the world with great success as a totally safe, naturally biodegradable substitute for plastic bottles. So its a great treat to have Lise tell us more about it today. Before we go into all that though, a quick shout out to our podcast sponsor, GiveSignup|RunSignup, the leading all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events. More than 21,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. And well be talking a bit later in the episode to GiveSignup|RunSignups Johanna Goode about better managing one of the most precious resources your event has - your volunteers. Ok, so lets get into this amazing episode! Lise, welcome to the podcast!

Lise:

Hello, Panos. Nice to be here.

Panos:

Thanks a lot for coming on. I have to say, today is very exciting for me, because I've been meaning to talk to you guys for a very, very long time. I was mind-blown by watching your product demo for the London Marathon - which we'll get into - the edible sachets that you guys produce.

Lise:

Great.

Panos:

And, I think it's going to be a terribly, terribly interesting discussion, for everyone who's been meaning to know a little bit more about the company and the product, and hasn't had a chance yet.

Lise:

Fantastic.

Panos:

You are CFO and COO for Notpla.

Lise:

Yes, that's right.

Panos:

You're gonna help me out with pronunciation here, particularly for the product we'll get into in a sec. So, why don't you tell us a little bit about the company, and what you guys do, and how you personally got involved into all that, and how it's all going?

Lise:

Sure - great. So, we are Notpla, which is obviously for "not plastic". We're not PLA. We're something new and different. And we are a sustainable packaging company who is trying to replace single use plastic, and other non-sustainable packaging with our materials, which are made from seaweed and plants. And the key thing about everything that we do is we make packaging materials that are totally natural, and will biodegrade naturally. And - if you bear with me for a moment - what that means is that we, specifically, are making materials that will compost in a home compost or even break down in your garden. Whereas a lot of alternatives out there right now that claim to be biodegradable, some of them are, some of them are not so much. And a lot of them require processing. And everything that we do is what we believe the consumer to really understand as biodegradable - meaning you don't have to process it. You could, literally, leave it in the environment, and it will break down. And, in fact, our sachet material that we use for sporting events breaks down within four to six weeks.

Panos:

Right. That's exactly what I would have understood by the term biodegradable, actually. So, I'm not surprised there's a lot of confusion out there. So, basically, you're saying that biodegradable, really, in most cases, means that there are some conditions required for the material to break down. Whereas, your material - which you said is seaweed and water, and probably some magic, or whatever - you just put into the bin, or you throw out into nature even, if you can't help it, and it will just break down by itself.

Lise:

Exactly. So, there are these alternatives which talk about being biodegradable, and that's a bit of a technical term. It's one of those technical get-outs where it is-- it officially means that, something will break down within a certain timeframe, under conditions such as heat, pressure, or with a catalyst, meaning it has to go to a specialist industrial composting facility in order to break down, which is much like going to recycling, in order to recycle. Whereas our materials being completely natural are more like food. So, you could-- it's really like packaging of products in food. You can take it and put it in your food waste. And it just breaks down with microbes, water, and oxygen.

Panos:

And I know by just looking also at your website that there's a few products you guys are trying out. You do, like, lined food containers, and all kinds of stuff. But, is it fair to say that it all started with Ooho - the little magical sachet we've seen in London Marathon and elsewhere?

Lise:

Yes. It all started with the Ooho.

Panos:

Ooho. Right.

Lise:

Or whatever you like to call it. Yeah, that was our first product. And it's really where the whole journey began - so, working to create a sort of flexible packaging for liquids. And it started with it as a drinks container. So, that really is a original Notpla product.

Panos:

Right. What kind of liquids can it hold?

Lise:

The Ooho sachet can actually contain most types of liquids. So, we obviously do just plain water. And, we do sports drinks. And we've done Lucozade, and various other isotonic drinks before. But, we also use a very similar-- we have a slightly different blend - as you say, a bit of magic, but a slightly different blend to our ingredient mix - but, we do it for our sauces as well. So, you might have seen the trials we did with Hellmann's, year before last. And, we're now working with a few different sauce brands to package sauces, instead of a plastic sachet.

Panos:

So, for people who haven't seen the videos, can you, sort of, like, walk us through a little bit how a sachet like that would be consumed, let's say, in a race? So, it's a little-- why don't you tell us about it - like a little pouch? And then, how do you use it?

Lise:

So, yeah. It's a different experience, as you can imagine. And, actually, part of the idea came from looking at how people drink water in different countries. So, whilst we here in the UK and the West are used to drinking from a plastic bottle - say, a hard bottle - in lots of countries in Africa and Asia, they actually drink out of a plastic bag. So, they're already used to this, in a way that we're not. But, basically, you have a bag of liquid, you hold it in your hands, and you have to nip the corner with your teeth, and then suck the liquid out from inside. And it's really important because we found, in the first test - we didn't explain this to people - people approached the bubble or the sachet of liquid, and they tried to eat it like an apple. And they were surprised when it went everywhere! But, of course, it's got no structure, because it's a flexible packaging. So, you have to just-- and it's quite soft. It's softer than you might think. It's definitely softer than plastic, which is actually one of the benefits when using it for something like a sauce sachet, because people find the sauce actually is horribly hard to get into, whereas ours is much easier. So, when you're drinking it in a race, you would take it from the person handing it out, or off the table where it's situated. And, you just take the corner, nip it between your teeth and suck it. And then you throw it to the side of the road. And that is how you would use it. Now, that's for the water ones, which we standardly make around 70ml size. And we also do small ones, which are around 25ml to 30ml. And, those you can actually eat whole because, in fact, the material is so natural, it's edible. So, when we were doing the Lucozade ones in the London Marathon, they liked the idea of being able to pop this in your mouth hole - so, about 30ml in size, in which case, you pop the whole thing in your mouth. Ideally, you put it towards your cheek just to be easier, and you bite down on it. And it's going to have a slight pop, which is quite a nice experience. And then you drink the liquid, and you actually eat the membrane - or, of course, you can spit it out.

Panos:

Right. Does it have any taste? Like, does it taste like anything - the membrane?

Lise:

No. It pretty much tastes like nothing. It's one of the reactions that people often give, that I think you tell people that it's made from seaweed, and they think, "Oh, it's gonna taste weird." But it really doesn't. In fact, we've worked quite hard to remove the taste from it. So, it pretty much tastes of nothing. It has a texture that is a bit like seaweed. And, it's kind of firm and slightly jelly-like, like that. But yeah, it doesn't taste anything, and sadly doesn't have any nutritional value.

Panos:

It doesn't?

Lise:

It doesn't. Now, we get asked if it contains anything. And, it's all about the product inside. So, it has a tiny bit of fiber, but I think you'd have to eat quite a lot of them to make a difference in your diet.

Panos:

Right. And, people may be intrigued - and, actually, I think if they looked it up on YouTube - there's quite a few people who are trying to make their own, right? I mean, this material is something that you can do, like, a version of it, you can cook up in a kitchen.

Lise:

Yeah, it's interesting. So, that's kind of, like, where we started from. The basic core concept's is actually a gastronomy technique - molecular gastronomy. So, you take the basic ingredients, or some seaweed extract, a calcium salt, and you mix them together in a certain way, then you can make a bubble. Look it up - it's really fun. I'd encourage you to do it with your kids. It's great-- it's a great thing to do. That's where we started seven years ago - six or seven years ago - and try that out. And, of course, it's lovely that you can do that. But we've come quite a long way from that, in terms of both the process and the material. So, that's just the basic material. We now add a number of different things, like plant gums and different plant extracts, to give it better properties, which include strength, a better permeability - so less water goes through the material. And the key thing is the processing, as I said. So, if you try and do it yourself, you'll discover you can make maybe two or three units in an hour. And we've developed our own machinery in order to make hundreds or thousands of those an hour.

Panos:

And, actually, I think it's worthwhile pointing out that the founders of the company and the people behind this - people, actually, if they search about the company, will probably see some videos of - they are themselves like actual material scientists. And, they came out of university and everything. So, can you tell us a little bit about that? Like, how the whole company started out, the university connections, the research, all of that?

Lise:

Sure. So, yeah. So, Pierre and Rodrigo, our co-founders, met at Imperial College London where they were doing a joint Master's, actually in, I think, innovation design engineering, which is a very cool course connected with the Royal Academy as well, and it contains both design and science elements. So, it's really bringing up together that mindset, which I think is the perfect breeding ground for entrepreneurs. So, Pierre came from an engineering background. Again, it was-- his idea was around this machinery to make this possible. And Rodrigo is a product designer by background. So, he was actually a professor of product design at Kingston, and he has a number of fun patents for strange little products he's invented himself. And the pair of them were really looking at-- they were really interested in water. And they were really interested in carbon, actually. So, it was kind of before the whole plastics movement with Blue Planet. They were really interested in looking at how they could reduce the carbon impact of the packaging of drinking water. You might not realize, but, if you look at a plastic bottle of water, like, around 500ml, that plastic took half a cup of oil to make and eight liters of water, which is a massive environmental impact for a plastic bottle. So, they were looking at other things. And, as you do, you often look to nature, and nature's a fantastic way of inspiring entrepreneur. And in nature, everything is contained in membranes. If you look around you, our cells in our body, our water contained by membranes, the segments of an orange are liquid contained by membranes. So, they were looking at this idea of membranes. And then, they were also, at the same time, looking through old patents. And there were some crazy old patents from Unilever in the 1940s, where they made fake caviar, using a similar process with seaweed and calcium salts to make small little bubbles filled with salty black water to make fake caviar. And the combination of those two things came together with this idea, "Okay, can we use the same technology - this old technology - to make a packaging for water?" And the big challenge being, "Can we make it big enough?" Because, these are tiny little bubbles of kind of a millimeter, maximum. And so, they started working with the team at Imperial - so with a number of the chemistry team there to see if you can make this bigger, working in the lab, getting their own extracts from the sea. And they've had a few technology innovation prizes, to fund that work. And that was really the beginning of the project. I met the guys in late 2016. And, at that point, it was a case of, "Right. We have basic idea. We have something that we'd like to build, in terms of the machine, and how to get this out. And we have an idea of how you might use this. But, we need to make this into a real company." So, after that said, I joined them around then, and we went for a crowdfunding round. And we did some equity crowdfunding on a platform called Crowdcube. And that's how we really got started, kind of, on the trajectory where we're now on. So, we raised a million dollars in a few days, which is really exciting, and gave us confidence that people believed in the product. And, from there, I guess the rest is history. We've grown as a team. We now have, in-house, around 30 people at the moment - of which we have around five chemists, four engineers, and five product designers. We have all sorts of people. A few sales people, but lots of technical people. And we have a lab downstairs where we do a lot of our own work

Panos:

Perfect. A couple of years ago, you were trying to commercialize it, get rid of bottles, and everything. And a nice little race got interested, called the London Marathon. So, what happened then?

Lise:

Well, the London Marathon, as you say, not a little race, and not the first, actually, either. We had some wonderful early stage partners who showed willing and confidence - lots of local races in the UK got involved. But, the London Marathon - yes, we worked up to that in 2019. So, initially, I'm sure you know, London Marathon also organized a number of other races. So, before that, we did the Vitality Half Marathon, which they also organize. And, before that, we did some test events. And, that was all working in partnership with Lucozade, to do, as I said, the small 30ml bubbles. So, at the 2019 marathon, we supplied 40,000 units to replace all the bottles at one Lucozade station. And it was the first large-scale testing of the product. And it was really fantastic. And what was very exciting is that, we got great feedback from people. You'd always expect that with a new product, there'll be a few naysayers, but there really weren't. People seem to be very positive.

Panos:

Yeah. I think people are willing to give these kinds of things a try - both organizers and runners - because the issue of plastic, pollution and waste is one people can't avoid anymore. And it's in the front of people's minds. And I know that, although it might be inconvenient, in some cases, people are thinking about all kinds of things about going cupless, about having other substitutes for plastic bottles, having biodegradable cups, that kind of thing. So, yes. I mean, I'm definitely-- I'm pretty sure people would have given you the benefit of doubt, and would like to see you succeed. I think everyone would like to see you guys succeed. In terms of the aid station that you guys supplied the Lucozade sachets for, how did that work - out of curiousity - like, how do-- I can see how you can stack bottles of Lucozade, and how people might just, like, run through and pick one up. How did it work with your sachets? Was it a bit of a challenge for volunteers to be able to hand them out, or train them? How did that go?

Lise:

Okay. Panos, you get me excited here! We're talking about logistics and operations. Very exciting. No - so, I think, just in terms of the practicalities, the Ooho sachets are supplied in containers that are each, like, 35cm x 20cm big. And, they are hard containers. An, those themselves can therefore be usually transported to the event headquarters. So, they'll be transported before the race. So, we very much see the way you distribute and treat our sachets is similar to water bottles. So, they get delivered to the central location. You, in your setup, with your van, that's going to take out all the tables, the flags, and things, will take those out to each water station. And, in the London Marathon, because there was a large volume, we had the, kind of, pallets of stacked up-- of these boxes, behind station, behind the tables. And then, volunteers, what they do is they just take a box from that, put it on the table, open it up at the station, and hand it out directly to the runners. You're totally right - there's a big education piece here. So, we make sure that we send full instructions, and usually even get involved in a pre-race briefing with all the volunteers to make sure they understand what the product is, how they're going to hand it out. And, even, we make sure they all try it once. - they know what they're doing. And there are different ways to hand it out. Either direct hand to hand, so your volunteers have to, obviously, use hand sanitizer beforehand, and then put on gloves - blue gloves - and they can hand out directly to the volunteers. Alternatively, we use a system where we put down plastic onto the table itself, which you can lay out the product on, and runners can grab them themselves, which allows you obviously to then wipe it down between units, if you need to. So, two different routes. And the main thing is about explaining to runners. We always supply full pre-race briefing information. So, there'll be information that goes out in the pre-race emails, and then to be said on the day as well. We also have, like, a how to use it video, so everyone knows the thing I explained to you about the nip and the sip. And yeah, it works quite well. We find that probably the first time a runner tries a big one, they might not get it perfectly right. But, usually, by the second or third time they try one, they do. It's a learning process, of course. I guess that's it.

Panos:

Did you get any feedback from runners that might have helped you rethink some of the ways that you're distributing or delivering it, or even, like, the material it's made out of-- was there anything that came out of the London Marathon that was helpful to you, from an R&D point of view?

Lise:

I guess not so much from an R&D point of view. But, obviously, it's a very big learning to experience doing a huge race, rather than smaller races we've done to date, and to see how that's set up. And, obviously, working with a large team of, I think, it was 30 volunteers, rather than a smaller group, you just need more, kind of, training. I think the most interesting thing about the London Marathon was really to do with the cleanup, and being able to see that in action. Because, the great thing about the Ooho product is, obviously, that it's biodegradable, but also that it has a very small volume compared to bottles. So, as we say, we also want to chuck the sachets to the side of the road. When the race is finished, it already looks like there's very little there, because it's such a small unit. And, actually, we had-- the first time that the street sweeper van went past, we had to wave them down and tell him to come back, because I think he looked out his window and thought, "That station has already been cleaned."

Panos:

Right.

Lise:

So, we have to get him to come back, obviously. What was great is just seeing that all you need is one street sweeper to go down. And they pick up the material just like it's leaves on the road. And it goes away, which is in massive contrast to the station that was, I think about a mile away, that was a water station with just bottles, where bottles just everywhere, obviously, on the road, having-- they have to send, I think, three different trucks along to collect all the bottles, and then end up-- even then with some people on foot going to pick up the last bottles, so the ones that are left behind. So, I think, for us, the learning was, really, just nice to see how post-race-- how much easier it was to clean up the the Ooho product.

Panos:

Could you even wash it off perhaps? Or do you have to actually pick up the sachets?

Lise:

It depends on your race setup. But, on tarmac, the easiest is a street sweeper - just using the standard street sweepers to go along. You can, otherwise-- if you're a smaller race, what we've seen them do before is they have, like, a one bin bag, and they just use a dustpan and brush type thing and, a kind of, a broom, and a pickup and put it in there. And, as you're probably implying, like, the great thing is if there is anything left behind, it doesn't matter. We've never had any complaints from a community afterwards, because those things, they disappear so quickly. You barely see them. If they're in nature, if it's in a field, it's going to disappear - it's fine. And, on tarmac, it will pretty quickly just squish into the tarmac and not be seen.

Panos:

What has been the feedback from the organizers? Were they happy with how things turned out?

Lise:

I think so. I mean, they've signed us up to do it again.

Panos:

That's great.

Lise:

Yes. So, obviously, last year it was all canceled with the COVID pandemic. But, this year, we will be doing two Lucozade stations rather than one. So, we're 90,000 units this year.

Panos:

Two out of how many?

Lise:

Two out of-- I'm not actually sure how many Lucozade stations they do. But, obviously, it's the Lucozade rather than the water. So, they haven't been that brave yet.

Panos:

Okay. Is delivering water - other than quantities - a particular challenge? I wouldn't think so.

Lise:

No, it's the same as delivering water. I mean, really, you're just, it's-- water is heavy. But, it's the same as delivering it in bottles. Yeah. It's about the quantity, I think. And I think London Marathon has shown a great enthusiasm for this product. But, they're traditionally not a leader in testing things out, I think, so I think it will be, hopefully, a year or two later, they'll start trying the waters out as well.

Panos:

Was it a case of you approaching London Marathon or the other way around? How did the relationship get going?

Lise:

It's a really good question. And I can't remember because we've been speaking to them for so long.

Panos:

Right.

Lise:

And, I think, actually, in the end, it was Lucozade that was instrumental. Because they-- as their product comes in a plastic bottle, were really keen to find a way to do something without plastic. London Marathon can, of course, choose to put water in cups if they wanted to, although most runners will agree that that's horrible, and no one wants to have water and cups. I think, on the topic of feedback - I see you ask me about before, from runners - most of the feedback we received is through Instagram or social media. But, what we found is that, actually, the runners that did use big waters - it's not London Marathon but in other races - found it actually easier to drink from, once they got the knack of it, certainly, than a cup or anything like that, because it's a closed container. Once you've worked out how to nip and suck it, you're not going to lose any water. You're not going to spill it. So, you can actually drink it while running, still.

Panos:

Right. Speaking of other races, I'm sure you've been approached by all kinds of events. Can you tell us a little bit about the kinds of races you work with, outside of London Marathon?

Lise:

Sure. Well, I think mostly we're open to work with anybody. And so, we like to be nice and fair. It has to have a reasonable size - I think we ask a minimum order quantity to around 5,000 units. That means that it could be a race with-- well, who wants to do one water station which has 5,000 participants, or it could be a race that only has 1,000 participants that they want to do-- it's a marathon race and they want to do all eight water stations or something. So, I guess I should mention our flagship races, who are-- they were really the great believers I mentioned before, was those two fantastic races. One of them was the Chippenham Half Marathon in England. It's a lovely race through the countryside round Chippenham. And, they were the first race, I think, four years ago to try out having Ooho water sachets, every single station, and all the hydration provided that way. And, I think, that community of runners, actually, now know us quite well. We've done it every year since as well, and they always give us great feedback. And that's where I said-- there was a fantastic runner who was quite fast. And he said, "I'm never able to take water - ever - on a race, because I'm going too quickly. This is the first I've managed to drink water on a race." So, that was great news for them. And, then we also did the Harrow Half Marathon in London, where we similarly did all water at every station. And, again, that was, I think, two years ago, when the event was last held. And, again, great feedback. So, just some examples of some local races we did. But, we are talking to a number of the larger events around the UK. As you can imagine, actually, we're also starting to work abroad. We're doing our first event in Australia, in around two weeks time.

Panos:

Excellent.

Lise:

On 1st May, that's the Kangaroo Island Marathon on Kangaroo Island. I believe it's completely sold out. And they will be trialing Oohos for the first time. And we actually now have a partner in Australia - a guy called Nate who runs the 1908 Sports Management Company. And he is now helping us distribute into Australia. So, he's also talking to a number of the big marathons out there - I won't mention the names because it's all early conversations. But, you can imagine the big city marathons in Australia, there's two of them currently interested. And, hopefully we'll be doing a test later this year.

Panos:

Whether its water bottles, or edible sachets like Ooho, that youre handing out at your aid stations, the one thing youll always going to need is a volunteer force that runs like clockwork. So how do you coordinate dozens of people across a myriad of tasks without spending hours updating spreadsheets? Well, would you believe it, GiveSignup|RunSignup offers a complete volunteer management solution as part of the service. So lets hear a little bit about that from GiveSignup|RunSignups own Johanna Goode. Johanna, thanks a lot for coming on.

Johanna:

Hey, Panos. It's good to talk to you again.

Panos:

So, apparently the GiveSignup|RunSignup platform comes with a fully-fledged volunteer management module, which Im ashamed to say I only discovered recently. Tell us a little bit about what race directors can do with that.

Johanna:

Yeah. So, every race comes with a volunteer management module that's built right into the event. You can just look for it on your race dashboard, and then it's free and easy to use. It's pretty intuitive. You set it up so that there are volunteer tasks. And, then, you can organize those tasks into categories, to group them together. Or, you can offer different time slots for each task. For example, I have a smallish race that I organize, so I set up a full category for all the water stops. And, then, each individual waterstop has a separate task. And there's two time slots for each water stop. And, then, my favorite part is that I can assign a task coordinator for each water stop, and that task coordinator has access to the communications tool to email everyone at their water stop directly from the platform, so I don't have to keep up with the minute details of every different water stop.

Panos:

Thats very cool. What about volunteer signups? Can I use this as a tool to get my volunteers to sign up for tasks Ive set up for my race?

Johanna:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Registration is just like a simplified free registration that you do for any event - you can require a waiver, you can ask additional questions. The platform is going to automatically track the status of each task and time slot in it. So, it will stop taking registrations when a specific task or time slot is filled. There are some detailed reports - obviously, you can access email addresses and questions/answers from your volunteer. My favorite report is going to be a quick summary that shows the status of each task, and the time slots in a colour-coded quick glance. So, there are slots that are green, and those are totally filled - you don't need any more volunteers. The yellow slots - they've reached a minimum number of volunteers, but can use a few extras, if you can get them. And, the red slots are the ones that you really need to focus on recruiting for, because they haven't yet reached the minimum number of volunteers you've entered for it.

Panos:

Awesome. So theres really everything I need there. I can get my volunteers to sign up, and I can allocate tasks to them, and I can then monitor how theyre doing delivering on those tasks. And you said this is all free through the GiveSignup|RunSignup platform?

Johanna:

Yep. The volunteer platform is available on any race dashboard.

Panos:

Super! Well, there you go. Another great tool to help you manage your race, absolutely free from GiveSignup|RunSignup. Awesome. Many many thanks to you, Johanna, for sharing this information with us. Now, lets get back to our discussion of Ooho, the edible liquid sachets for races, with Lise Honsinger Okay. So, it seems you guys are working with a bunch of racers from around the world. What countries is the Ooho product actually available in?

Lise:

So, at the moment, we are a UK-based production facility. And the long term vision is that we'd like to have production facilities all around the world, because, for us, it'd be really important to produce close to site. We don't really, in the long term, would want to be shipping water around. That said, whilst we're at this stage, and we're growing, we are doing exactly that. Our product itself has a short shelf life, but we've found a way to pasteurize it that enables us to ship using, the kind of, the slow boats, the low carbon impact, around the world. So, Australia is this new market we're looking at. But, typically we do the UK and Europe, at the moment. European events can contact us. We also have a partner that is working in the Benelux region, that we can put you in touch with, who are starting to supply into the European races.

Panos:

And what about US? Because we have a very strong following in the US. I think once people realize what we're talking about and take a look at the videos, they'd be very excited about, potentially, getting hold of some of that for their race. Is Ooho going to be available there soon?

Lise:

That's a really interesting question. And we'd love to do the US. And if there are any potential manufacturers listening, or sales agents who'd be interested in getting in touch, please do. Because, we have this idea that, as I said, we want to - one day - have manufacturing all around the world. And that doesn't have to be us doing it ourselves. We're looking for people who'd like to franchise, and who'd be able to set up sites where they could make that water. And, even in the short term, people who would just be able to sell them - be our local agent - would be fantastic. That said, if there are any big American races, we're always happy to talk to people. Because, I think, as of like, later this year, or next year, we'd quite like to do some trial events in the US. So, they have to have a reasonable scale. It doesn't work to ship units out there at this stage for something small. But, yes - very interested in talking to American parties. Because, for us as a company, it's never been about being in one country. It's about being global. It's about having the impact everywhere.

Panos:

And, in terms of numbers, if I'm organizing an event, and I want to go exclusively Ooho for the water, say, how should I be thinking of the quantities I'll need to order, in terms of-- if I have, let's say, like, a 10K with 1,000 people, and I usually, like, give out an amount of water bottles, how should I think of that substitution ratio between water bottles and Oohos?

Lise:

It depends on the length of the race, I suppose. And it depends on what-- if you have any local restrictions and requirements on volume of water needing to be supplied to participant. Obviously, our units are 70ml. So, you can do the maths. But, in general, what we found is that, people give out water bottles, but people don't drink more than a couple of sips. And we got to 70ml because that's about three or four gulps, which is what people want to take. So, for shorter races, we would say, for 10K, it's probably one-to-one - whatever you have as water bottles or cups, you just replace with the same number of our product of Ooho. For longer races, half marathons or marathon, we would probably say more like 1.5-2 in terms of the ratio. Because, especially if it's a warm day, we find that the first or second water station at a race a person will still take one. But, by the time they get to the second half of the race, they'll probably grab two Oohos, and then they can drink one straight away, they can hold one for a bit, and then drink a little bit further down the road. So, yeah. So for a half marathon, maybe it'd be 1.5 per person, and for a marathon, we can discuss it - it depends, I guess, on various factors - but, 1.5-2.

Panos:

Yeah. That's a good point about quantity because indeed-- and I know you race as well. When you're on a race, you grab a bottle, particularly, for some of the longer races - like a marathon, where, like, every 5km, there'll be a water stop - you don't actually take any more than two or three sips and really, like, most people just throw it away. And, there's like a little puddle around every water station. So, that's-- I suppose you're saving back on water, as well as bottles, and everything.

Lise:

Yeah, it's true. And, I mean, I'm sure you've seen it-- well, there's a couple of things. But, obviously, you should be well-hydrated before you do a race. This is just to top you up and stop you feeling parched. And I'm sure you've seen it, if you've done big running events. Nowadays, when they're giving out bottles of Volvic or something, they have all these signs up that try and teach you to pour out the water of your bottle, because they can't actually recycle it when it's got water in it. So, it's a really big problem. And, if you've been to like the expo - I was at Paris marathon a few years ago - there's a big education piece they're trying to explain, "Pour the water out of the bottle." Because they know people don't drink it. So, yes, I think we actually have a benefit over that.

Panos:

Yeah. And, I bet people don't do that. I mean, yeah, it's good to tell people, "Pour the water out", but, yeah, no one's going to be doing that.

Lise:

The other strange benefit that we have - we discovered that we had - over bottles is that we don't provide-- we don't create a trip hazard. So, people sometimes ask, "With your material, when it's thrown on the floor, will it become slippery?" The answer is "No". You're totally right, that it does have that potential. Right? It's a film. But, through the testing that we see, we've never seen anyone slip on it, mostly, because of two things. Obviously, we ask you to throw it to the side of the road, and most people are pretty compliant. And, secondly, because it disintegrates quite quickly under foot. So, you have to be very unlucky to stand exactly on one that someone has just thrown down. By contrast, the bottles which have being dropped on the road, I think three people, every year, break their ankle at the London Marathon.

Panos:

Yeah, definitely. So many practical benefits to it. Cost-wise - let's talk about both the larger water sachets and the energy drink ones - what's the price for those?

Lise:

So, actually, at the moment, we charge the same price for both. Because, from our perspective, sadly, most of the cost is in the making and not in the materials. We charge 0.25 per unit, which is obviously more expensive than your equivalent bottle. It's probably about double the price of what you might pay. But, we think that the environmental benefit is far outstripping that. And I think there are-- as I said, there are benefits to the clean up that, hopefully, you should save some money on at the end. So, yes, 0.25 per unit, and plus shipping - which is the kind of, I guess, the thing is-- that's why we'd like to get to a stage where we have production in different countries. Because, whilst we always do shipping as a pass-on cost, i.e. we're not making a profit on it, it might be expensive to America. I haven't looked into it yet.

Panos:

Well, I think it's a great product. First of all, I don't think that-- even if it's a little bit more expensive than a water bottle, I think in the context of what it is and how it looks, that it's really significant. Plus, I think it's a great product for sponsors to get involved in. Because, like, of course, why wouldn't you want your name behind something like that, that people are going to immediately associate with you helping out the environment - right?

Lise:

You're so right. We actually find a lot of the races we work with get a sponsor specifically for the water. And we're very happy to work with that. It's a great way to get it paid for.

Panos:

Right. So, what's your future plans? How you're gonna be taking Ooho to the rest of the world, and to every single race on the planet?

Lise:

Well, as I said, looking for franchisees. I think it's all about this next year to really see how it takes off. So, it'll be nice to see the races restarting post pandemic again. And, I think we just had-- we're just kind of waiting to see how that picks up, and how quickly people return to normal. I think it'll be fantastic for us to have a few of these major marathons around the world. So, watch this space on those, as we start to take that off. And then, also, we're hoping to, really, in 2022, hit the UK market, and hope that we have a really significant presence here, that it makes sense for partners and other countries to start doing this. But - yes - hopefully, you'll start to see production of Ooho in different countries, which will enable it. Obviously, in terms of cost, we always hope the costs will come down, and that's really a matter of scale. So, again, that's something that we will keep an eye on. And, I think, really, the way that this can happen is by more and more runners trying it, and giving the great positive feedback that we've already seen, because it gives race organizers the confidence to get this product on. As I said, we've always been overwhelmed by the positive feedback that people give us. And I think it's a really wonderful engagement piece for any race that's thinking about doing it. It really gets people excited beforehand. We had people at the first ever - like, I think the first ever - half marathon we did with Lucozade as a test we actually didn't provide enough units. There was more people than they thought, and they ran out. And there were people coming towards the end, saying, "But I want to try it! I'm so excited. I read all about it." So, I think it really does have that wonderful thing. And the reason we started doing this with sporting events is because runners are just the perfect adopters for this product. What we see is runners are people who like to be in nature, who like to be healthy. And this just-- having to take plastic bottles, drink it for three seconds, throw it on the ground - that plastic last 700 years - it just feels criminal. And what you're doing is trying to do something that is about health and about being in nature. So, I think it really fits the group of people really well.

Panos:

Yeah, I'm not surprised. I mean, again, regardless of whether this is gonna-- regardless of how much this is going to catch on, it's just, first of all, such a remarkable product, such a great initiative. You guys should be really proud of, actually, having delivered this to such a big race, such as the London Marathon. And, again, like, going back to what you said about the earlier events you would have been on, I would have entered the race just to try this thing. If it weren't available-- like, it's such a great experience to be able to say that, "I tried out something so innovative, as not having to take on a bottle and try this kind of alternative." It's a great thing.

Lise:

It's fun - I know. One thing we often find at races, that we have to tell the volunteers not to give it out to the public, because you'll get people coming up saying, "Can I try one?" I will say that at the races, "Folks, these are for the runners. Please give it to them."

Panos:

Have you found, actually, through your conversations with race directors, any kind of sticking point at all, about people perhaps not wanting to try it out for a specific reason?

Lise:

Well, I guess most of the events that contact us are already in a certain mindset. So, they're probably less likely to have those kinds of questions. For sure, there are 100 questions that need to be gone through. And, especially, it's a new product. It's a new way of distribution. It is quite nerve-wracking. I totally understand that. And so, I'm very happy to work with events on doing a single water station or two water stations to try it out at the beginning. Because, yeah, it's totally different. We, obviously, get a lot of questions, as I said, around the logistics and the ops. I think that actually is, in some ways the - surprisingly - the easiest part of it. We get some questions about handing it out, because it is new, and people don't know how to take it. And I think the main thing that we try and explain there is that, sometimes, I think, people think, "Oh, this is the bag of water. So, it's gonna be easier to take than a bottle or a cup." So, the fast runners will run through and try and just grab it. And, it can smash in the volunteers hand. And, that isn't ideal. But, we have to remind race organizers that, that runner wouldn't take a bottle or a cup either, because they'd be going too fast. So, I think in terms of handing it out, think of it like handing out a cup of water. Runners will have to slow down a little bit to take on water. That is what they'll have to do. And it's very, very light that, like there. Other things to think about - yes, understanding the cleanup. I guess one extra piece to mention is that we operate a circular economy on all of our containers. So, we ask that the race provider packs up and returns to us the containers it came in - so there's no waste - which we then wash and reuse. So, I guess that is one extra piece, but we provide the return packing label, so it should be relatively simple.

Panos:

Okay. And if a race director wants to get in touch about putting in an order, or inquiring further into putting in an order, whom do they contact?

Lise:

For sure. Well, anyone can obviously contact me, but the easiest thing is to contact our [email protected] email address. Actually, we're very attentive on that. So, it's [email protected] N-O-T-P-L-A. You can also go on to our website. And, if you go on to the products page, you can scroll down, you find the Ooho sports section, and it links directly to a form which you can fill out straight away with your race details, and that will get sent straight off to our sports team. So, yeah. So, either [email protected] or via our website - there's a form on there. And, yeah. We look forward to hearing from people.

Panos:

What kind of lead times should people expect, if they're ordering, let's say, from the UK or Europe?

Lise:

So, we operate on a first-come-first-serve basis in terms of capacity. So, obviously, if your race is going to take place on 4th October - which seems to be the most popular weekend, at the moment, this year, for events - the sooner you get in touch, the better. We tend to say-- we ask for the UK and European countries at least a four-week lead time, minimum, for booking just in time for delivery. And, obviously we're still figuring it out with Australia and the US. But, I think there we'd need to be looking for, like, an eight-week to three-month lead time just because the shipping is about eight weeks itself.

Panos:

Okay.

Lise:

But, yeah - so, for UK races, if your race's is at least three or four weeks away, we may, as well, get in touch and see if we're still available.

Panos:

And, in terms of franchisee opportunities, are you guys open to that? Because, I heard you mention earlier, that's going to be your rollout plan for other countries in the world. Are you interested in people getting in touch and saying, "How do I get involved - getting a machine or something so I can produce locally for events in my country"?

Lise:

So, if you're interested in getting in touch in that, by all means, email me personally, which is [email protected] And, I'm happy to talk to you, or also you can email the [email protected] email address. At this stage, yes, we'll be looking for people who've got manufacturing experience - people who run a food production site for, perhaps-- or people who have, maybe, done a lot of the operational equipment for races. So, someone who makes the T-shirts or the race numbers for sports events - those kind of people would be the perfect.

Panos:

Okay.

Lise:

People-- and, I think what we're looking at doing is probably not leasing any machines until 2022. But, we can start working together in 2021 to build up interest, and test out the products in new markets.

Panos:

And these machines, out of interest, what kind of production rate do they run at right now? How many of these can they turn out?

Lise:

So, actually, we have-- the machine is quite a small machine. We set it up to be, like, a small unit that could go into a smaller kitchen. So, a single unit, which isn't too expensive, produces around 10,000 units a week, if it was running on an 8-hour day, five days a week. So, I think that works out to a couple of hundred units an hour.

Panos:

Excellent. Okay. I think that's all from me. It's been, as I expected, extremely interesting. I hope everyone listening in found it interesting. I'd like to thank you very, very much, Lise. I know you're extremely busy, and you don't do this kind of thing very often. So, thank you very much. People have your contact details, if they want to get in touch either, to buy product or to discuss becoming a franchisee for you guys. I wish you all the best with this fall's London Marathon, I guess, and races beyond that.

Lise:

Thank you, Panos. It's been great.

Panos:

Thank you very much to everyone listening in, and we'll see you on the next episode. I hope you enjoyed this episode on Ooho, the edible packaging for races, with Notpla CFO & COO, Lise Honsinger. You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your questions about sustainability, reducing bottle waste or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub. If you enjoyed this episode dont forget to hit Follow on your favourite player for more content like this. Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.