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Sustainable innovator hits headlines with Innovate UK EDGE help

image of toilet rolls made from bamboo with bamboo shoots

Naked Sprout's unbleached bamboo-based toilet roll is a sustainable alternative to conventional and recycled products. The toilet roll innovator revamped its business strategy, found its financial footing and secured national media coverage, all with support from Innovate UK EDGE.

For some time now it has been widely recognised that the use and manufacture of toilet roll has a highly detrimental effect on our environment. 

According to the Consumer Market Outlook, the average Briton uses about 127 toilet rolls per year, making the UK the third biggest per capita consumer of toilet paper in the world.

Globally, seven million trees are felled every year to meet the UK’s toilet paper demands, with each tree releasing up to a tonne of stored carbon. According to the Natural Resources Defence Council, the harvesting and manufacturing of trees causes them to release 85% of their stored carbon, with the remaining carbon released as the product decomposes.  

Although recycled toilet roll is an increasingly available alternative, the recycling process is highly energy intensive and, like conventional toilet roll, requires harsh chemicals to achieve the whitening effect that consumers desire. 

In order to help address these challenges, Dorset-based Naked Sprout has developed a process for manufacturing unbleached bamboo-based toilet roll that cuts carbon emissions, reduces water usage, helps stop deforestation and eliminates chemical pollutants. As a result of this process, Naked Sprout’s products are plastic free, and are made from 100% natural unbleached bamboo with no chemical additives.

Bamboo offers a number of benefits compared to traditional tree-based solutions. The evergreen plant grows 30 times faster than trees, absorbs 30% more CO2 and releases 35% more oxygen. It requires no fertilizers or pesticides and can be harvested in just 4 years, compared to 20-30 years for a paper producing tree such as pine.

However, there still appear to be some issues with the appearance of the product from a consumer’s point of view. Unbleached bamboo-based toilet roll does not look quite the same as traditional bright white toilet paper, and there appear to be some negative perceptions among consumers regarding the adoption of a slightly different-looking product, possibly brought about by advertising that aims to associate the whiteness of the product with cleanliness and hygiene.

“We’re encouraging consumers to move away from perfectly white, patterned and scented toilet roll,” says Sarah Cox, Head of Operations, Naked Sprout. 

“Our off-white products are certainly conversation starters, and crucially, they contain none of the chemicals in conventional toilet roll, such as hydrogen peroxide and chlorine dioxide, that ultimately end up in the environment. The bamboo-base is also much more sustainable.” 

Since launching in January 2020, Naked Sprout has grown rapidly, boosted by the increased demand for toilet roll during the first national lockdown. In addition to its commercial success, in its first year of trading, the company estimates that it has saved 59 million litres of water, 1.5 million litres of chemicals, 6,400 m2 of plastic and 1,761 trees through its environmentally-friendly production processes. 

“We’re also proud to work closely with Just a Drop, a local charity which helps communities in developing countries to access clean drinking water,” says Tom Whelan, Founder, Naked Sprout. 

“We’ve now provided safe, clean drinking water at schools for more than 54,000 children, and hope to grow that figure as we scale.”

Growth support from Innovate UK EDGE

In May 2021, Naked Sprout began work with Innovate UK EDGE Innovation and Growth Specialist, Tony Welch. 

“Tony’s been a fantastic mentor, helping us to create a focus for growing the company and identifying areas we need to concentrate on. He’s then provided access to multiple experts in these fields,” says Sarah. 

“It’s often difficult as a start up to find answers to specific questions – you can’t always trust Google – and Tony’s always been at the end of the phone to either offer advice or put us in contact with someone who can. It’s very reassuring and has allowed us to move forward with confidence.”

Marketing support for sustainable innovation

Recognising the communication challenges the client faced, Innovate UK EDGE Marketing Expert, Phil Johnston, stepped in to help develop the company’s B2B strategy. One strand of this strategy was to target influencers, in this case, climate conscious employees, who could request the use of Naked Sprout’s products in their offices and workplaces. 

“Phil also supported the development of our PR and media strategy, helping us to create newsworthy content,” says Tom.

As a result of this work, Naked Sprout is gaining national recognition: “We’ve seen coverage in The Sunday Telegraph, the Sun and Which?, which has really helped with our lead generation,” says Tom.

Financial forecasting and grant funding

Innovate UK EDGE Finance Specialist, Simon Thompson, then stepped in to provide advice on financial forecasting to help Naked Sprout to identify its future cashflow and determine how much financial support it would require, and from what potential sources.  

“The financial forecasting helped to create a very clear direction of travel,” says Sarah, “we decided to focus on grant funding and began work with another Innovate UK EDGE specialist, Adele Reynolds.”

“Adele has a wealth of knowledge on the grant funding landscape – she’s recommended specific competitions and provided critical appraisal of our applications.  It’s allowed us to be much more time efficient and move forwards with confidence, knowing we have a strong chance of success.”

Tom concludes: “Our business has snowballed since the pandemic and we’ve faced a lot of new challenges – Innovate UK EDGE has been able to provide real expertise in these areas and for us, it’s been the perfect gift.”

Innovate UK EDGE will continue to provide game-changing growth support as this Dorset-based business revolutionises our approach to everyday disposable products.  

Our business has snowballed since the pandemic and we’ve faced a lot of new challenges – Innovate UK EDGE has been able to provide real expertise."

Tom Whelan, Founder, Naked Sprout