How do you make a product that most people take for granted exciting? On the 122nd episode of The E-Comm Show, Andrew Maff interviews Dinesh Tadepalli, Founder and CEO of Incredible Eats. Driven by a lifetime of waste-consciousness, Dinesh started Incredible Eats to launch a line of edible utensils — a replacement for plastic that’s not only better for the planet, but tastes good, too!
In this episode, Dinesh will discuss the challenges of competing with ultra-cheap plastic products, how he appeals to people who aren’t outwardly invested in environmental causes, and how Incredible Eats is scaling in a sustainable way. If you’re interested in how one startup is reinvigorating an entire industry, don’t miss this episode!
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From Purpose to Profit with Incredible Eats
Andrew Maff and Dinesh Tadepalli
Dinesh Tadepalli is an immigrant to the US, a hardware engineer by background and now dreaming to preserve this world for his kids by reinventing the way we eat our food. He co-founded incredible eats to replace single use plastic cutlery with edible cutlery.
I want people to eat your spoon and say hey 100 million plastic cutlery is being used every day. As simple as that and challenge their friends to eat a spoon or a straw Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The E-Comm Show. I'm your host Andrew Maff as always, and today I'm joined by the amazing Dinesh Tadepalli, who is the founder and CEO of Incredible Eats Dinesh, how you doing ready for good show? I'm good. I'm ready for a great show. Thanks for inviting me. Beautiful, appreciate you joining us. Super excited to talk about your brand, your journey, all that fun stuff. I always like kicking these off with a very stereotypical approach. Let's pretend that no one knows who you are. And why don't you just tell us a little bit about yourself incredible eats and we'll take it from there. Okay, sure. So um, Dinesh directly was an engineer by background I came to the US in 2007 for my master's in electrical engineering. And I've worked for semiconductor manufacturing chips for a while. And a small moment in my life pushed me towards working towards a sustainable solution for plastic cutlery. And that I'm gonna cut short the story, but we invented edible cutlery at scale that can be manufactured at scale. And once we found the product and once we using our technical background and engineering, once we figured out how to manufacture that, without any background in food industry, I started selling this product back in February of 2090. That's when I started. And with lots of rounds, I'm still trying the best and the most proud moment in my life is that we already replaced 7 million single use plastic utensils with edible utensils. So just a little bit of our product. We are edible cutlery started with edible spoons. Now we have edible straws on sporks as well. And they are vegan non GMO. They were just made with grains. There's no additives or chemicals or anything like that. It's just like a cracker, which is a little hard enough for you to use it as a spoon and then consumer after and they come with both sweet and savory flavors to meet your palate. That is it. Your your product line is one of those things where it's like, I can't believe no one thought of this before is really one of those like, genius. What, uh, what kind of triggered coming up with the idea? Where did the where, what's the background of how you came up with this? Sure. So I had been like, for a while I've been like very close to nature, like I cycle I used to hike a lot. And I used to be very close with nature, it's kind of partly culturally pushed on to me saying that we should respect everything around you, not just yourself, you should take care of the surroundings and all that stuff. And that's kind of inherently with me. Like for example, even before I started my company, I maybe use like 10 to 15 water bottles in 10 years. That's it. That was like really worst case scenarios. I had to use them five years. So I was very cautious on what my actions are, like leaving on the planet. So that has been there for a while. But what triggered me into into this entrepreneurship, especially in the food industry was actually an ice cream shop. I had my daughter back in 2018. I had a son when before that, and I took my son to an ice cream shop close by to our home and we had an ice cream. We're tired of the sleepless nights after the quarter was born and all that and an ice cream shop to have an ice cream and suddenly I peeked into the into the trashcan because I was throwing the cups and the spoons into the trashcan. And a question really struck me hard. The question was I was an educated person. I watched a lot of documentaries about plastic pollution, about climate change and all these things I knew about all these things, but how come my action and in those 10 minutes when I ate my stream of using a plastic spoon and a plastic line paper cup? How was that I was not able to implement what I know into an action like why am I using it knowing that it's going to harm the planet? So the question is not about why is there a lot of plastic is more about why am I not acting on the knowledge that I had. I knew things are bad but Why Why am I so unbiased or vulnerable by mass? Why am I so like not worrying about using plastics? So that question really triggered me. So prior to that I was a angel investor like prior to this 2018 invested in a couple of software companies, I lost money in one and other one is going okay, right now. That was also a lesson for me, I was like, let me invest that money in myself. And I was always wanted to be something more than just a employee, right? So like, everyone kind of thinks in that way at some point of time in your life in your life. So it was also coinciding to this question like, Okay, let me I wasn't even thinking about entrepreneurship. Rather than following everyone else in Silicon Valley, making another software company or hardware company, let's do something where it will help the planet. Let's see if it succeeds, or it doesn't. Because I'm a very realist. I don't, I'm not like a huge optimist in another way. I'm very realistic. I'm like, the best I could do. I'll do the best, I will work my I work really hard for this. Because it's not just for me, it's for the planet. And if it succeeds, well and good. If it doesn't, I'm still happy. Because I'm already I've already made an impact. It's not just about what I saw how many, how much money I made, it's more about how much impact I made, even if I fail. So that was the reason why I thought, Okay, this is like a no brainer for me, because it's all my, all my different thought processes or all my different needs at that time. And that's when I started my journey to looking into the alternatives. So the first thing that I came across with the compostable, the PLA based compostable cutlery that already there was there in the market at the time. But I actually went to a couple of composting facilities in California. And I was surprised to learn that cutlery is sent back to landfills. Because it's a huge contamination issue for that it's too small to salt. First of all, it's it's heavily contaminated, they can't really guarantee that the city is sorting Well, or even the, the place where you have a compost bin versus a plastic bin versus a trash bin. People, not everyone is cautious enough to do exactly, segregate them, even if they do sometimes city mixes it up. So that's the reason why I realized Kotori since back and if you don't, if you don't really send it to industrial composting facility, then there's no use it it still degrades like four or five to six years in a landfill. The PLMA spool, so then I realized that's not the right solution, you need to find a better solution, then I looked into bamboo. Bamboo is expensive first. The second thing is a lot of people don't know about this bamboo and wooden cutlery, cutlery. Leave a minute for making them to manufacture them. They they make a lot of chemical waste, which hurts the rivers and waters and it pollutes the roads. Generally, people think about after life like a product is used and what happens after to it. But we should always also think the starting of it. Because I wrote this famous book called Cradle to Cradle I forgot the author's name. It's been a while since I read the book. So it says you should look at the entire lifecycle of the product, not just what happens after you use it. So when I looked into the birth of the product, or the or the starting journey of the product, I felt that bamboo and wooden cutlery actually are not good for the man. And because it creates a lot of chemical pollution. And looking at all these things. And I realized the solution was right in front of my eyes. And an ice cream shop for ages people have been eating ice cream cones. So I like why can't we make a spoon or a fork or like a straw, which you can eat. So that that is how this was born. And then when they was actually not easy. We had to we spent around one year in r&d. And because see, it was easy to make it in a lab or in a kitchen like to make the mold and try the product out. But it's very hard to scale it that was the challenge. Because it has to have the right parameters of heat compression and, and the quantity for it do it in the right strength. So it can be used first. And it'll later. And we actually took a lot of hints from Fortune Cookie and biscotti. Actually, fortune cookie is hard. If you if you're actually the shape of it, or the structure of it. You can actually scoop some stuff from that. I mean, you can't release times. But yeah, so we kind of understood and mimic what we can depending on the products that we had. And being engineers, we wanted to test the product when I launched it. I intentionally sold less because I was getting feedback. Because I was not sure because this is something new people. People don't know what to expect shouldn't be hard. Should it be soft? Should it be sweet should be not sweet? All these things, a lot of different questions that I had. It's not as it's not an existing product so that I can compare against and say it's good. It's better than this and better, not better with this and all that stuff. So that's when the challenge was we spent a lot of time we iterated like five times. The current version is the fifth version. I mean, the last four years but even though we sold quite a bit, but we kept iterating. And we understood how much like right now the acceptance rate is about 80%. It's not still close to 9495. That's what I'm aiming at. It started at like acceptance rate was like 60%. This is the rate that people were okay with the product, and like the product. So that's how we iterated and all. Yeah, that's, in fact, the story and how we kind of progress towards that. Yeah, I mean, you've got, would you say about 7 million of them have been used at this point, right? Before yours. And the 14 the last four? Yeah, I mean, that's, that's amazing. And then you think about, like, you know, there's, there's struggles with products when they get started when they go into a really competitive space, right? If it's like, hey, you know, we're just trying to stand out or we are very differentiated, but it's so different, that it's going to require education, you went into utensils, which is very difficult, then you think about not only did you get into a wildly competitive space, but you got into a space where if you factor in, like, let's say, your direct competitors being plastic utensils, they are dirt cheap, comparatively. So now you've got to be able to show like the the reasoning and the justification behind the price point. So how have you been able to like continue to scale it and kind of fight through that battle of, you know, going up against the plastics of the world. So I always look at the pricing as smaller behavioral economics rather than just pricing. So two main customers for my product or any product. Like broadly speaking, one, who understands the product, like for example, in my case, the sustainability, eco conscious customers. Second, the normal people are like, Oh, I don't care if my product, if it's plastic or not plastic. People might be ignorant, right, it's, I'm not gonna blame them for not knowing things. So that's fine. So there are two categories, right? For me, in order to scale, and in order to make the impact that I'm looking at, I need to attract both of them, not just the people who already know what this does. So that's the reason why we added flavors and experience to it. Because let's say, somewhere in in, like a Midwest or somewhere in the States a lot a person who has completely no idea about plastic pollution goes to an ice cream shop and finds an edible school. I want him to choose an edible spoon, like how he chooses a cone for the experience and the taste of it. So that was one of the reasons why it clicked at some places, because it's not towards a sustainability angle, but towards an experience angle. It's kind of added it to it, and people are willing to pay extra for that experience, right? So you get my way. So it's not like I'm gonna ask it to. So people always pay for a cone, they're okay to pay that 50 cents, or $1 for a cone, or even more than the Morpho cone or whatever it is. So that's where the trick that we learned as we sold because initially I was heavily focused on sustainability, because that's how my heart speaks. But I realized my customers or my the shops might not think of what I'm thinking like, so they're looking at their, how can they make more money? How can they reduce their expenses, so these are the things that they are thinking about. So that's kind of it, it's still hard, I'm not denying that. So thankfully, we have some aquariums and zoos, which are okay with it. They started as a topping in the places and now they included in the cost of the price cream and that the giving by default. So we did some lot of experiments to understand what the consumer wants. And actually, the end consumer always wants it. We actually Haagen Dazs did the first trial with us in 2019. A lot of that like like a lot of backstory and how we approach them and how Billy Eilish supported us. And there's like very interesting things that happened to this 90 before COVID. And during the survey, 97% of the people said they wanted an edible spoon, and they are willing to pay like 25 cents to 50 cents for it. The data says that. But the challenge is it's an additional work for all these chains to implement that. And that comes over time and unfortunately COVID stopped us right on tracks. Because again, the market segment is also really important. I never went into retail. Initially, my heavy focus was on foodservice even now I'll come back to the present but but the COVID disrupted everything. We had amazing traction in 2018 COVID came all the food service got stopped and like stalled. Fortunately, at the same time, we got TJ Maxx coming on board and saying hey, I'll order three containers don't even worry about marketing distribution. I'll take the product from your warehouse, and I'll do the rest. I couldn't say no it's it's like a blessing. Right? Are you saying it so you invent retail boxes for them? I did not have retail boxes tell them so since we brought them in we thought let's put it on Amazon and ecommerce like Shopify and all that stuff. And Shark Tank came in and Shark Tank approached us we I won't ever want on the shark tank for pitching product and we had a pretty good show but the deal did not go through but the show was when the pitch was pretty good. And it we the last three years has been good for retail this year starting this year and completely shutting on retail because of the other thing others and minus things that it has what I learned price points and it's not super profitable initially you have to really know a lot of a lot of Tom rules that a person has to buy three times for the manufacturer to make money. Forget our distributor and wholesaler. There are some of these tricks, which I learned myself and either Okay, forget about all this let's we refocus, completely pinpoint focus on foodservice, it will take time because foodservice takes a lot of time to get in. But once you get it, it's like a repetitive thing. You don't have to worry about backfills and you know, the other retail headaches that you have. But to get in, it's very hard. But once you get in it's it's a smooth ride after that. Oh, yeah. So obviously, you know, you mentioned you were on Shark Tank. And you know, I've had, at this point, I don't even know how many people from Shark Tank had been on the show. And it's always a very interesting reasoning as to why they were on it, or how their experience was, and all that stuff. And I don't like harping on it. Because I think there's pros and cons to the show. I think that you know, you only get to see what like not even 15 minutes of what sometimes takes two hours. So like making, you know, you get these people that see the show, and then they just have a solid judgment of the business and I go you saw like a quarter if that of the actual conversation. What made you go on the show in the first place was I'll leave it at that actually, what made you go on the show in the first place. The way I got into the show was very interesting, too. I, in one of the fancy food shows, I think it was a winter Fancy Food Show back in 2020. The in January, it happened in January. What I do is okay, there's another thing very peculiar about our business. We spent like $40.40 years on social media advertisement. We are I because I think it makes sense. And I want it to be as organic as possible. I can vouch that the 7 million I sold 6 million is through organic outreach, not through any sales or marketing. And other million will contribute to the trade shows I visited 1020 trade shows in the last four years. And that's how I learned the industry, right? I'm not from the food industries, although I learned I like to go to the I used to go to the shows, ask me, I think I met about 15,000 People ask like some 10,000 questions, and got the information is what I need. So that's how I brought myself up into the food industry thing. And yeah, coming back to the Shark Tank. So the trade show, whenever I go to a trade show, I will not miss a single opportunity to go contest for any pitch competitions and product competitions. And all year, we won many awards. I think some of them are here, only so many awards in the trade shows. So the Fancy Food Show, we had they had a pitch competition, which we won. And that caught the eyes of the producer at Shark Tank and reached out to us and I was at on visa at the time. And they said on a visa you can't come all the time. This was sent to this event in 2020. This was COVID and they said visit next year I forgot about it. I was very excited when this visa thing and I'm like I can't help it. It's my immigration status. What do I do? I've been waiting for my green card for 15 years. It won't happen in next month. So I like Okay, I just left it in 2021 They approached us back again and at that time and my green card is very close. So I went to the EAD stage it's a different immigration stage status and they said we accept that like like Okay fine, I'll start pitching and I missed that initial where you go and pitch to in the in the auditions and all that stuff. But I learned the stages and as you mentioned the the pitches pitches really really hard it's not the 15 that sweet 15 minutes do you see on TV the show the best on the TV a lot of lot of things go on behind the scenes are unlikely it went on for like close to 95 minutes. Like Bakunin afar and it was like the the most frustrating part people don't know about on Shark Tank is all five all five shots talk to you at the same time. They don't give you a minute to finish a sentence because they want to end the target right so yeah, that's kind of the thing I mean, I can't disclose why the real and go through I got four offers I chose Laurie ganja as my shark and then after that there's due diligence and all that stuff. I was very truthful also, I even though I we sold like two to 3 million spoons by the time the revenue was only like 100 on less than 200k because our schools are in cents not in dollars. So so that I was very truthful and they they realize why is it so nice when I told them my focus was foodservice that takes time and it because but the market is huge for us consumes 100 million plastic cutlery per day per day. Yeah, the time is you nuts but it's it's good it's gonna take some time. Unfortunately right now there's no ban on plastic except for some cities like in Santa Cruz la semana coming up soon subpart E so we try to concentrate there also. Yeah, and that's that And that's a shark tank experience. I mean, I can't complain on the not winning the deal, but I got amazing exposure more than exposure. What I loved about shark tank was credibility. Like, on the fun part before Shark Tank, when I reach out to some of these shops, like they used to think I was a spammer calling and saying, aw, spoons. Yeah, my backup LP there. So, so then it's very weird, because how do you tell someone that some new product is there in the market view without knowing them? Right? It's very hard. Now as simple thing I just like, This is my Shark Tank videos. I don't have to make another introduction so that the credibility was a huge boost for me. Yeah. So with with pivoting to mainly targeting the foodservice side, how do you plan on marketing to that audience? Is it mostly like a traditional kind of b2b approach where you're now looking at more of like a sales aspect? Or are you doing any? Are you still kind of focusing on the organic marketing side?
A mix of both and but heavily. So I do have contracts for most of the food service giants like McDonald's, Burger King, all these like many even Yogurtland does medium side chains. I already pitched to them before COVID. And during COVID, also, the timing was not right. So I just have to like typical sales channel approach like to reach out to these folks. Again, I have a lot to 50,000 emails from all the trade shows. I went to zero like cold outreach right now. But there are some marketing strategies that we're planning to implement. For example, we have some very Baqi I guess, I would say, like, like, go put a board on a dustbin? Did you just boom today at some QSR chains. Like some of these things, we need some money and people to act on. And we want to partner with some schools like high schools, kids who are really focused on sustainability, and ask them to campaign on behalf of us to these chains. Or like say, I mean, one of the crazy ideas I have is to put a big ad in front of Disneyland gate saying, Did you eat your spoon, Mickey or something? Otherwise, it's very hard to catch their attention. Unfortunately, it's very slow. Also, it's not fast to get into those big chains. So there are that's that's the, I wouldn't say organic, more like, like a guerilla marketing kind of tries to implement, but it's gonna be really easy. It's going to be expensive. It's going to be hard and, and we also wanted to use social media in that aspect. Instead of just asking change to get people to ask change. To get us this, we want to do a eto spoon challenge like remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Long back, where people put ice ice and a bucket of ice on their heads to promote the ALS syndrome. To share the knowledge about ALS syndrome, the same thing like I want people to eat a spoon and say, hey, 100 million plastic cutlery is being used every day. As simple as that and challenge their friends to eat a spoon or a straw. So something like that we have some ideas, it's just that implementing them takes money and time and right now to be frank, we're at like the lowest of the lows i in the last three months before I was like almost thinking that I have to close this company. Because Oh another another thing that's very different about us we only raised $200,000 In the last four years. We are self to yourself kind of self funded Bootstrap. So that was a big deal, right? Because you need a lot of money for like CPG or food industry it's not easy. So it was going very well for the four years we didn't have any issues. We got product once we made money then we spent and got product again like that's how it slowly bootstrapped. But then last six months ago, in July, our machines kind of aged the molds that we got became really efficient and now I didn't have that initially oh by the way the the way I started the company is I sold my home in California made money by selling the home and I started using that money to boost up my manufacturing and and myself like sales and marketing so I didn't have another cell now I was like struggling where will I get the money to replace the replace the machinery right so so we were like in a really bad shape for four months we didn't have any inventory even right now. We don't have any inventory on our website. The product not made just last week I think it will ship next week and it'll reach early March. So we had some challenges
starting turning around yep how it's done. It's not a it's never a straight hockey stick growth. It never is. It never will be I wish it was but it's not what
I was thinking that I books tell it's a hockey stick. I always think it's like first it goes in a wave and then goes to a hotfix upside down and then goes up or goes just waiting on it.
Dinesh, thank you so much for your time. I don't want to I don't want to take up too much of your day. I really appreciate you being on the show. I would love to give you the opportunity here. Let everyone know where they can find out more about you and of course more about incredible eats.
I'm sorry, sorry, can you repeat that?
Let everyone know where they can find out about you. Didn't give you your web, your so your website, what I do is eat stock.
Sorry, sorry, I get it to help people get to know about us. Okay, because they can visit incredibleeats.com. That's our website, incredible lead stock calm or on Amazon. But as I mentioned right now, we don't have any stock. So please be patient. I think we're early March. You stock ready. And it's much more reasonably priced. And the right packaging like it's just 50 spoons per box. We either had 100 spoons per box for foodservice or like very small boxes for retail. But we left both of them and we put a 50 box so people can buy it for birthday parties at home, or they can buy it for ice cream shops. Either way, it works both ways. So we did a lot of work to make it streamline and just deep focus on just the product and the cost of the product. And thanks a lot for the opportunity. And we really appreciate it. Yeah,
Thanks for being on the show. To everyone who tuned in obviously thank you as well please make sure you do the usual rate review, subscribe all that fun stuff on whichever podcast platform you prefer or head over to the E comm show.com to check out all of our previous episodes, but as usual, thank you all for joining us and we'll see you all next time.
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