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SOFi Products: Revolutionizing Sustainability with Brandon Leeds

Brandon Leeds, co-founder of SOFi Products, shared with CanadianSME Small Business Magazine the story of turning a frustrating experience with a soggy paper straw into an innovative business focused on sustainability. Growing up in Miami Beach, Brandon’s love for the ocean and his eco-conscious upbringing, shared with his friend Jordan, propelled them towards creating SOFi Products. Their mission was to address the greenwashing prevalent in the sustainable products space by developing truly biodegradable and compostable items that don’t require special facilities to degrade. Overcoming challenges such as making sustainable products economically viable, Brandon and Jordan introduced the SOFi Hot Cup, an all-in-one plastic-free cup with a patent-pending locking mechanism, eliminating the need for a plastic lid. This design innovation not only represents a step forward in sustainability but also makes eco-friendly options more accessible to businesses by offering cost, space, and freight savings. Looking ahead, SOFi Products aims to combat greenwashing practices and expand their market presence, focusing on replacing traditional single-use cups and lids with their groundbreaking solutions across North America.

Brandon Leeds is the Co-Founder of SOFi Products – an innovative manufacturer of sustainable paper products for the foodservice industry.

Your journey from growing up in Miami Beach to co-founding SOFi Products with a focus on sustainability is inspiring. Could you share more about the journey of co-founding SOFi with Jordan, especially how your childhood experiences and your love for the ocean influenced your decision to start a business in the sustainable products space?

It all started with a soggy paper straw and a milkshake. In early 2019, Jordan was drinking a milkshake with a paper straw and was unable to finish his drink before the straw unraveled.

Jordan and I have always been pretty eco-conscious and entrepreneurial since we were young. We always were thinking of news ideas and looking for an idea to start a business together. Creating the best paper straw seemed like the perfect challenge.

Over the following 12 months, we analyzed the manufacturing process and materials, looking for ways to make improvements. Ultimately, we completely reinvented the manufacturing process for paper straws and created a straw that does not get soggy, fall-apart or taste like paper.

It was always strange to us that people were continuing to put a paper straw in a plastic lid/cup. This is where the idea for an all-in-one plastic-free cup came to life.

Image Courtesy: SOFi Products

Brandon, SOFi Products stands out for its commitment to creating truly sustainable, single-use products. Can you elaborate on what sets your biodegradable and compostable products apart from others in the market, and why was it important for you to ensure they degrade without needing a special facility?

The sustainable products space is filled with an overwhelming amount of greenwashing. We want to create products that actually decompose in a reasonable amount of time (less than 180 days) regardless of how they are disposed of.

There are a tremendous amount of products that look like plastic and feel like plastic touting eco-friendliness (biodegradable/compostable). Yet, most people do not know that these products need to go to an industrial composting facility. Otherwise, these products are the same as plastic.

Educating people on how to make the correct sustainable purchasing decisions is at the heart of SOFi and a driving force for us to create plastic-free products.

Image Courtesy: SOFi Products

With a market flooded with products claiming to be eco-friendly, SOFi’s 100% plastic-free approach is commendable. What challenges did you face in achieving this, and how do you ensure that your products, including the groundbreaking SOFi Hot Cup, remain entirely plastic-free throughout their lifecycle?

Sustainability has always been associated with being expensive and inaccessible to most. It has been part of our mission to make sustainability more accessible to businesses.

However, finding ways to make sustainable products economical and cost-beneficial has been a challenge. To solve this, required finding unique ways to give benefits to our customers; like eliminating the lid. By eliminating the lid, we can provide tremendous cost savings, space savings and freight savings to our customers. Making sustainability more accessible.

The SOFi Hot Cup’s innovative design that eliminates the need for a plastic lid is quite a breakthrough. Can you walk us through the design process for this patent-pending locking mechanism?

Throughout the 4 years of development for the hot cup, we were able to keep a tight feedback loop with a select group of businesses and QSR chains.

Having this tight feedback loop allowed us to make important changes as a result of real customer feedback.  Putting the cup through real-world testing helped us to identify the correct problems and come up with solutions that would get us to a final real world product.

Hundreds of small product iterations led to the final product of the SOFi Hot Cup.

Looking ahead, what are the next steps for SOFi Paper Products in terms of product development and market expansion?

With the recent launch of our hot cup, we are focused on replacing as many cups and lids as possible in North America. Our goal is to raise awareness about the greenwashing practices within the eco-friendly products space and offer solutions that are actually a step in the right direction.

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