A not so rotten idea
by Erika Beauchesne
SMEs win Home Depot sustainable product contest
VANKLEEK HILL, Ont.—Innovation can strike anywhere.
For Adam Webster, it happened in a Ziploc bag of rotting food.
Webster is co-founder and CEO of Cooter Muck Probiotics, a household probiotics manufacturer in Eastern Ontario.
Two summers ago, Webster was living in Montreal and working in the aviation industry. His business partner, Scott Russell, was a gardening enthusiast, who kept spoiled food in Ziploc bags for new compost soil.
“There was this bag full of rotting food in the middle of July. Upon opening it, we found there was a slight vinegary odor, but it didn’t smell,” Webster recalls.
Figuring they were onto something, Webster and Russell toyed with the solution until they perfected a compost deodorizer called Compostgenie.
They found the solution not only pickled the food, but kept pests such as fruit flies and raccoons away from compost bins.
The two started selling the product straight out of Ziploc bags.
“Eventually we got brave enough to go to Home Hardware with our product,” Webster says.
Getting picked up by a major retailer gave them the confidence to leave their day jobs and focus on their new company.
A $35,000 loan from the federal government’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) helped them with initial R&D expenses, Webster says.
The company now manufacturers its probiotic deoderizer on an acre of land in Vankleek Hill, Ont., a town halfway between Montreal and Ottawa.
Cities with green bin recycling programs, such as Ottawa and Toronto, are its richest markets, but breaking into them depends on which stores carry the Compostgenie product.
A recent contest launched by Home Depot Canada could now bring Cooter Muck closer to those hot spots.
Cooter Muck was one of 13 Ontario companies to win Home Depot’s Innovation for Sustainability contest.
The contest, in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Economic Trade and Development, aims to open new retail channels for SMEs.
It gives manufacturers the chance to showcase their products in select stores across the province and online.
Some of the other winning innovations included a fire starter made of recycled cooking oil and a storage bin made of 100 per cent reclaimed plastic.
Later this summer, each product will be assessed for expanded distribution in the Canadian market.
Webster says making it that far would change things dramatically for his four-employee company.
“It would mean skipping getting an investor and going from $500 a week to $5,000,” he says.
He notes that Home Depot is also one of the largest retailers in the U.S., where cities such as San Francisco also have compost programs and related issues with bugs, raccoons and rats.
“Our baby company with virtually no payroll could go really far and fast.”