War on Waste
Peita Pini is on a mission to prolong the life of produce and reduce plastic pollution, all while fighting child slavery. By Victoria Pearson
It’s usually the leaves — spinach, rocket, parsley — that perish first. The kale clings on a little longer before also resigning, followed by the hardier fruits and vegetables. The fridge which, just days ago, was a picture of abundance is now a chilled graveyard of wilted, soon-to-be-binned produce. It’s a familiar cycle: stock up on fresh fruits and veggies and, within days, discover they’re basically expired. This type of wastage is common — the average Australian household throws out between $2,000 and $2,500 worth of food per year, costing the economy $36.6 billion annually and accounting for about 3 per cent of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Sydney-based Peita Pini was raised with an appreciation for the natural world. After starting a family of her own she became aware of the amount of unused food she was throwing in the bin each week and decided to take the nation’s food waste problem into her own hands. Her first patented product, The Swag, launched in 2016. A machine-washable fridge bag crafted from three layers of 100 per cent unbleached, unseeded cotton, it was designed to retain moisture and extend the life of produce (it even received Oprah’s tick of approval). Covid-19 shutdowns took their toll on The Swag’s B2B sales stream, so Pini and her team mined years’ worth of customer feedback and distilled the best parts of the product into a retail-ready alternative, Veggie Saver, which is now available at more than 600 global stockists.
You pitched The Swag on Network Ten’s “Shark Tank” television program back in 2018. How was that experience?
When I got the casting call I decided I could do without the distraction and wasn’t going to go through with it, but they were persistent. They said, “Very few people get the opportunity to make it to casting.” So I walked to the studio with a bunch of Swags rolled up under my arm and gave it a shot. Two months later I was on the show. Because an offer was made, I was able to have an hour in front of the Sharks, and a good six minutes of airtime, and I came away with a strategy and mentoring deal with [Glen Richards’] The Richards Group. “Shark Tank” has been fantastic for publicity, tapping into a whole new audience that we couldn’t have reached as a small business.
It can be tough differentiating a brand’s genuine sustainability commitments from greenwashing rhetoric. How do you ensure The Swag and Veggie Saver maintain transparency with customers?
In 2021 we teamed up with Applied Horticultural Research to scientifically test the efficacy of the produce bag’s design. The study compared the storage life and quality of produce in a Veggie Saver and The Swag to storing in plastic, paper and no packaging, in a domestic refrigerator. Results concluded both The Swag and Veggie Saver not only keep fruit and veggies fresh for over two weeks, but in one trial extended the storage life of fruit and veggies up to 38 per cent longer than when stored in plastic.
You’ve spoken about your company’s business model being “purpose driven”. What does this mean exactly, and how does it shape your products and business decisions?
Swag Australia is all about giving back — it’s heavily ingrained in everything we do. From giving back customers those extra days or weeks that fresh produce can last, to acting consciously and thoughtfully, and making a real difference to the place we live and the earth as a whole. Alongside the company’s efforts to reduce food waste and plastic pollution, between July 2018 and December 2022 Swag Australia has donated over 18 per cent of its net profit to support Destiny Rescue and will continue to donate a minimum of 5 per cent of its net profits to the charity in the future. Destiny Rescue is a not-for-profit organisation that frees children trapped in trafficking and provides ongoing support through rehabilitation programs in more than seven countries.
What drew you to Destiny Rescue?
I stumbled upon a documentary that highlighted the issue of child trafficking and slavery. After witnessing thousands of children being stripped of their freedom, I utilised this as my greatest motivator to launch Veggie Saver. Not only did I want this business to create a positive impact for the world by combating food waste and plastic pollution, but also to generate a revenue stream in order to rescue children trapped in slavery. We truly care about the legacy we leave behind and believe in a better world where human trafficking no longer exists.
This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our seventh edition, Page 160 of Winning Magazine. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.