Judy Lazar is anxiously waiting for her first sighting.
Nearly two years after founding her business, Ms. Lazar is looking forward to the day when she pops into a grocery store and finds someone carrying broccoli or apples in one of her reusable produce sacks.
For now - despite thousands of sales and a growing movement toward being environmentally responsible - most shoppers in Canada still use the free plastic bags in the produce aisle.
"You know you're selling lots of bags, but it would be nice to see people actually using them," says Ms. Lazar, who has sold more than 30,000 produce bags since they hit stores in July of 2008.
She probably won't have to wait much longer. Ms. Lazar launched her business, Credo Bags, at a time when the slogan "buy green" began to resonate in the minds of consumers. Whether it's recycling, composting food scraps, or walking instead of driving, more people are taking small steps to become greener.
Indeed, that's how inspiration struck Ms. Lazar. The apparel industry veteran was looking for an opportunity to re-enter the business world after taking off 12 years to raise her children. When grocery stores in Quebec introduced reusable bags a few years back, Ms. Lazar was a quick convert. However, she soon discovered another chance to go green was being wasted at the supermarket.
"I realized it didn't make sense to put your fruits and vegetables into those filmy, plastic produce bags and then put them in your [reusable]grocery bag," Ms. Lazar explains. "The real tree huggers have been waiting for it."
Being green wasn't enough, though. She also wanted to make the bags in Canada. The Montrealer witnessed how outsourcing has decimated her hometown's apparel industry as factories closed and jobs went overseas.
After just a few months of preparation, she was ready to start knocking on retailers' doors in May of 2008. Her first client was a kitchen store in Toronto's shrine to food, the St. Lawrence Market. The owner, Sam Halpern, was a long-lost acquaintance who had rented an upper duplex belonging to her father when she was a girl. They had recently reconnected.
Mr. Halpern, whose Placewares store crams hundreds of items into a small space, carved out a bit of room for Ms. Lazar's bags. He knew customers were already searching for that type of product. Since then, he reckons he's ordered some 40-50 dozen of the cotton bags.
"People come into the market all the time looking for that type of product," Mr. Halpern says. "We've done very well."
Other retailers added the line, which also includes reusable bags for bulk goods, baguettes and wine. Credo Bags has about 100 customers, including online and stores in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, and even New York. They range from organic and health food stores to upscale outlets such as Whole Foods and Pistachio.
Ms. Lazar won't disclose the number of bags she has sold or her company's revenue, but she will say she expects sales will double in her second year ending April 30. (She disclosed last year she had sold more than 30,000 produce bags in her first nine months of business.) Ms. Lazar hopes to turn a profit in coming years, but admits it's challenging.
The profit margins aren't big. That's because every bag save one model is made in Canada. Some are sewn in an apparel factory in Montreal in which she is a partner, while immigrant women employed by a co-op program called Petites Mains in the same town also take on some of the work.
They all receive minimum wage for their efforts, which is obviously more than what foreign factories pay their workers. So that hacks off a lot of the profit margin.
A related challenge is the price. The produce bags, for example, start at $5. Competitors have emerged with bags made in China or India that are a few dollars cheaper. Despite her higher production costs, Ms. Lazar is aware that there is a price level where people will no longer buy a product, even if it is green.
Indeed, surveys have shown consumers are willing to pay a premium of 10 per cent to 40 per cent for an environmentally friendly product.
"Customers are happy that it's made in Canada," Ms. Lazar says. "I pray and hope that's where we're going: support our own economy."
Ms. Lazar sounds like she has her hands full and is looking for a distributor to take her business to the next level. Her family pitches in. She also has one employee and contracts out a lot of other jobs, but as the founder much of the work falls on her shoulders. And she has big dreams: to further expand in the United States and get on more retailers' shelves in Vancouver.
"There's thousands of stores to sell," Ms. Lazar says. "I just can't do it all."
Greater distribution, including perhaps attracting a large grocery chain as a customer, is key for a new, green company such as Credo Bags, agrees Amelia Clarke, an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo's Centre for Environment and Business. The challenge is producing the large volumes that such stores require.
"Her product can become their product," Ms. Clarke says. "That would be a huge opportunity for her."Report Typo/Error
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