Cuban Business Makes Bamboo Straws

Bambooleo Shop is an online store that focuses on selling bamboo straws on the national market.

By IPS-Cuba

Launched during lockdown, Bambooleo Shop is a business that seeks to provide an alternative to plastic straws.  Photo: Courtesy of Bambooleo Shop

HAVANA TIMES – While the idea has been germinating for years, it was at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in Cuba, that Bambooleo entered the market. This business seeks to support eco-friendly management practices in local bars and restaurants by selling bamboo straws.

“We wanted to come up with a solution to plastic straws, which many businesses were already getting rid of because of their environmental impact,” Sandra Duarte, head of sales and marketing alongside David Chapet, told IPS-Cuba.

In addition to its environmental benefits, the online store is an option to replace imports. And that’s a much-needed step during this economic recession in Cuba, only worsened by the current pandemic.

“We discovered a niche in the market for establishments that were already using alternatives to plastic straws – whether they were cardboard or metallic straws -, but they weren’t so readily available in Cuba, so they were imported instead,” Chapet explains.

Bambooleo’s handmade production process follows a strict sterilization process to ensure their safety. They are hollowed out, then washed with a sterilizing solution, and dried in a glass oven.

Environmental sustainability can mean financial stability

Bambooleo has a management model geared towards environmental and economic sustainability, from the very beginning of the production process.

The straws are made out of Olyra latifolia (also called Tibisi in Cuban fields), a native species that belongs to the same family as the most famous strain of bamboo, and it has similar properties to be used in craftwork.

The business links in agricultural work to ensure raw materials, handmade production and online sales. Photo: Courtesy of Bambooleo Shop

This plant is grown in alliance with farmers. “As a result, we don’t have to depend upon it growing in the wild and we ensure the supply of our raw material,” Chapet explains.

This is normally a problem that many businesses face in Cuba, a country that still lacks a wholesale market to ensure supplies for the diverse businesses in the private sector.

“Every time we harvest, we plant again. There is a cycle that allows us to be constantly producing, making sure that resources don’t run out and, as a result, products too,” says Chapet.

On the other hand, they only use 65% of the plant for production, the rest is used by the farmers, who plant it, as animal fodder.

Sandra Duarte believes it’s important that clients are aware of this production chain. “When you go to the store, you are not only buying from Bambooleo, it also benefits the people growing it,” the young woman says.

As the project is quite new, there is no study yet about its economic sustainability. However, they don’t expect a problem because their production chain begins in the fields, they believe it is very stable.

Raising awareness and changing consumer habits

In these recent months of economic paralysis in the country, especially in the gastronomic sector, Bambooleo Shop has focused its energy on gaining visibility and raising awareness about the impact plastic has on the environment.

Making great use of social media platforms, such as Facebook  and Instagram, the business aims to change consumer habits and business management practices, putting environmental responsibility at the heart of what they do.

“We want to create a label that identifies establishments that use bamboo straws. Moreover, for this to become a requirement when customers are choosing an eco-friendly business,” Chapet says.

In the future, they plan to diversify their range of products, which is something many clients request. They plan to develop different kinds of packaging and tablecloths, made out of biodegradable organic material. These can include banana leaves, or the waste from sugarcane.

In the long-term, Duarte aspires to be among the top suppliers of these kinds of products in Cuba. “In the long-term, we would also like to be working with the hotel sector as many different chains continue to eliminate the use of plastic straws,” she stresses.

E-commerce for the national market

Environmental responsibility isn’t the only thing that makes Bambooleo stand out. The online store works using the messaging service on Messenger, connected to the popular social media platform: Facebook.

In early 2020, there were 7.7 million active social media users in the country of 11.2 inhabitants. This, according to a report by We are Social and Hootsuite.

“It works like any other online e-commerce store, but we have a system that enables us to see via messages. We believe this is advantageous for everybody,” Chapet explains.

They chose this retail option because for Cubans the price of mobile data is extremely high for the average pocket.

More and more businesses are jumping on the e-commerce wagon, especially during lockdown.

According to Bambooleo’s managers, it is the right option. However, they don’t rule out an alliance with other businesses to sell their products in physical stores.

“The online store seems like the most direct way for people to buy things nowadays, and we won’t have geographical issues across the country,” Chapet says. Up until now, they have received orders from Havana, as well as the cities of Santa Cara, Trinidad and Remedios.

Read more news and feature stories from Cuba here.

3 thoughts on “Cuban Business Makes Bamboo Straws

  • Great to see individual initiative in Cuba. The Castro regime has endeavored to stifle it for sixty years as capitalistic. But even that regime may grasp at straws !

  • Bamboo straws have been on the market for decades.

  • Glad to see that someone is thinking outside the box. The Cuban people are programmed to look for options to everything as they deal with less services and products. Hope the demand increases in the near future.

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