The Finns Suvi Haimi and Laura Kyllönen, both biomaterial professionals, are threatening the plastic industry by launching a 100 percent biodegradable, water-, oil- and oxygen resistant packaging material made of wood and natural adhesives. Currently focusing on cosmetic and luxury products, their unique packaging material may also inherit a big potential for other industry branches. Sulapac ® was founded in 2016 and in the short time they’ve already come a long way. Now the start-up made it to the six nominees of the Green Alley Award 2017, a European business competition for circular economy start-ups.
You and your colleague Laura developed an ecological packaging material that is both 100 percent biodegradable and shows plastic like properties. Please tell us, how did you come up with this idea?
We both use a lot of ecological cosmetic. Two years ago we were looking at our bathrooms full of plastic cosmetic jars and bottles as if we were looking at them for the first time. We were shocked when we realized how much plastic we own and wanted to use our 10 years of experience with biomaterials to make a difference. Both Laura and I are professionals in the field of biomaterials and tissue engineering (mainly in medical applications).
This biomaterial knowledge combined with the wood composite expertise of our two colleagues, Petro Lahtinen and Antti Pärssinen, led to the discovery and innovation of Sulapac® material. Coming to the packaging industry from the scientific world and looking at the challenges from an outside perspective, definitely gave us leverage and courage to do things differently. This was the key in the development phase.
What did your families and friends say when you told them about your idea of starting your own business?
Changing the entire career was not a quick decision, but our families and friends were very supportive in this process. They saw the potential and how serious we were in the development and did not question whether we can achieve what we were aiming for. Starting your own business requires a lot of dedication, work and hours, which can lead to less time spent with your loved ones. Therefore, the support and understanding have been so important to us.
For what reason did you choose to begin with the cosmetic and luxury packaging?
Cosmetic products are close to our hearts as we use them on a daily basis. Starting from our own bathroom cabinets, Sulapac® fills the missing gap and offers an ecological and beautiful packaging. There is growing demand for sustainable and biodegradable alternatives in the cosmetic and luxury packaging, and these segments form an interesting share of the global packaging market. We see that our material and the beautiful wooden appearance brings additional value to the cosmetics and luxury brands.
What was the strongest critic regarding your product and how did you face it?
The feedback has been very positive for us and if we need to find some critic it has been probably the basic assumption that Sulapac® products can hold 30 months stability of a product without biodegrading. At the moment, we guarantee 12 months stability as this is typical for naturally derived cosmetic products. For extended shelf life, we are developing more efficient barrier concepts that are still biodegradable to fulfill our mission.
Who is your biggest competitor and how do you convince customers to collaborate with you?
Our biggest competitors are all the plastic companies who already have strong roots in the cosmetics and luxury segment. We have a proof of concept model to ensure that the customer can have an easy entry to Sulapac’s fully biodegradable packages. We also have our own Sulapac® Nordic Collection packaging range for those customers who want to buy a ready design and package.
Plastic is commonly used, easily available and of course very cheap packaging material. One of the breakthroughs of Sulapac® is that it can be processed using conventional equipment and therefore manufacturing is easily scalable.
When comparing to plastic packaging, Sulapac ® has completely unique wooden appearance, not to mention the super sustainable aspects of our fully biodegradable packaging solution. Sulapac ® contains 0 percent plastic. It combines ecology, luxury and unlimited design possibilities, which makes it a totally unique packaging concept in the world. Sulapac ® products are designed for brands who want to reduce the plastic waste and communicate their sustainability with premium ecological packaging. Unlike many conventional plastic packaging providers, we can offer the whole packaging concept, from the customized design to the ready product.
How far have you come by now and what is the crucial point to find your products in more drugstore shelves etc.?
We launched the first product, a premium soap case, in March 2017 together with the eco-luxury cosmetic brand Niki Newd. The first primary cosmetic package will be launched with Naviter Oy in the upcoming winter, following product launches with Flow Cosmetics. Lumene Oy is the first global cosmetic brand that has entered into cooperation with us. These are the first companies with pioneering attitude to challenge the traditional plastic packaging and lead the way to a more sustainable and cleaner world.
What do your expansion plans look like? Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
Our vision is to make Sulapac® the preferred sustainable packaging partner globally. As mentioned, we are first focusing on cosmetics and luxury packaging and expanding our portfolio to cover also bottles and tubes. In the future, we are planning to expand to premium food and beverage packaging segments. Our expansion plan is to partner with the pioneering companies with a high-profile brand who shares the same sustainable values and wants to lead the way in the market. We are in discussion with several global brands and we are aiming to launch in international markets already in 2018.
Source: Startup Valley, 20.10.2017