Meet the St. Pete startup getting eco-friendly with wood cutlery

Published on August 18, 2022, 12:43pm EDT by Lauren Coffey - TBBJ & Inno Reporter
To read the article on Tampa Bay Business Journal’s website click here.

Ina Henderson and her husband, Jim, have long been in the woodworking game: Jim had his own flooring company, and Ina worked in reforestation. But after Ina saw an art installation of a whale made entirely of plastic, coupled with the mass amount of plastic cutlery she bought for her daughter's birthday party, the Hendersons realized they needed to make a change.

"It hit me, 'This isn't working," Ina said. "The more you're aware, the more you notice how often you get a plastic fork. And we live in St. Pete, where there's water and nature around us." Enter Foodstiks. The company was incorporated in 2018 and offers wood cutlery options - knives, forks and spoons to allow users a more environmentally friendly option. It is not only an alternative to traditional plastic utensils, but also the "compostable plastic" that has to be sent to a commercial composter to get broken down.

When the company first came on the scene, Ina found herself explaining the importance of becoming eco- conscious. But as awareness has raised, so has attention for Foodstiks.
"When we first talked to people at the Florida Restaurant and Lodging show, people did not know what this is is it reusable, is it disposable?" Henderson said. "Just a year later, people knew what it was, and the questions completely changed. And now, very few people don't understand why [this is needed]."

It's caught the attention of Target (NYSE: TGT), which offers Foodstiks on its website. There are conversations to offer Foodstiks in its stores as well, Henderson said, although they need more product offerings in order to snag a display. Henderson is considering palm plates as a potential, along with cutlery dispensers.

"Target is always looking for innovative products that set them apart," Henderson said, "and that's us."

There's also an increasing need from universities, where students are demanding more environmentally friendly options. The company has contracts with the University of Oregon and the University of San Diego.

"If you talk to younger generations, they want tochange habits, consume differently, eat differently," Henderson said. "The rules are changing; people are realizing they can't use single-use plastic anymore. And now, it's not enough to say, 'It's sustainable.' You have to explain the journey. So, there's much more scrutiny when you offer a sustainable product."
Foodstiks has eight employees and two warehouse locations, with one on the east and one on the west coast.

The company is entirely bootstrapped with no set plans for a funding round, although Henderson added she is open to investor discussions.

While Henderson believes St. Pete does not have enough space to have its own manufacturing site, she believes it is the right city for this company.

"I think logistically if we were a little further up north, it would help, but ultimately, St. Pete is working out really well for us," she said, adding the city is well connected with freight companies.

Beyond helping the environment, she hopes to make a splash in the local community. The company works with Tampa Bay Food Fight, for example, which is a fundraising event through Metropolitan Ministries that gives lower-income students a chance to earn a culinary education.

"We're trying to support sustainability," she said. "We're aware we have limited resources, but we're trying to support these organizations and make a mark on that end as well, instead of just being a business."