Sustainable packaging startup TemperPack recently closed a $22.5 million Series B led by billionaire Steve Case’s DC-based firm Revolution Growth. This brings the Virginia-based company’s total funding to nearly $40 million. It completed a $10 million Series A in 2017 led by SJF Ventures, a resource efficiency-focused VC firm.
TemperPack has developed a proprietary, patent-pending curbside recyclable alternative to expanded polystyrene.
The food industry is a key market for TemperPack that has partnered with other agrifood tech startups including HelloFresh, the European meal kit business. TemperPack provides HelloFresh and other food businesses with an alternative to Styrofoam, the non-recyclable insulted packaging.
“One of our biggest partners was meal kit delivery service HelloFresh. We worked with them to develop a product that met a bunch of different criteria including being lightweight, sourceable, and paper-based, which is important based on the recycling infrastructure in the US. We wanted it to have the insulating properties of Styrofoam with the product performing just as well. We didn’t want to be giving them a subpar product just because it was more sustainable than styrofoam,” John Briney, director of marketing, told AgFunderNews.
Having a tangible product helped set the startup apart as it searched for funding, Briney notes, as investors could see and interact with the product that they’d potentially be backing as opposed to intangibles like software. It also offers its product for the pharmaceuticals industry where a growing number of biotech companies must transport biobased substances within strict temperature parameters.
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“This round is an opportunity for the company to shoot into a higher growth period. Our Series A was an opportunity to show we can develop this new technology that we branded as ClimaCell, which is a fully recyclable liner,” said Briney. “Now that we have that proof of concept in place, we are looking to rapidly expand as we roll out new machines. This funding will be used to put in a second machine at our Las Vegas facility and to finance a third machine at a TBD location on the East Coast. Eventually, we plan to roll out a new machine every year.”
Sustainable packaging is a sector that most folks can agree on, similar to cutting down food waste or helping farmers use inputs more efficiently. A quick review of startups innovating sustainable packaging solutions, however, indicates that the space is less developed than other universally altruistic spaces.
“It’s a late bloomer in terms of the world of e-commerce shipments. People are a little wary of getting produce in the mail. It’s interesting that we haven’t seen a lot of competition in the space,” said Briney. “I would say the bulk of our competitors are $40 million to $50 million companies that have been around for at least a generation. They invested in a material that back then performed at the level they needed it to perform at, but they had no appreciation for what its end-of-life would be. Being a new player in the market has allowed us to become a disrupter whereas these companies that have been around a lot longer have let their R&D arms lag.”
Sustainable Packaging Tech: The Next Frontier?
The consumer demand for increased sustainability in our food system is slowly permeating every layer of the production chain, and packaging is no exception. As evidence of consumers’ passion for improving our food system’s impact, San Diego recently voted to ban styrofoam alongside New York, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC.
Public interest groups like the Sustainable Packaging Coalition have developed to assist industry members in shifting towards a different packaging mindset. SPC has developed tools, applications, and services to help companies take meaningful action toward packaging sustainability.
Even large corporates are taking note of the need to find new ways to wrap, box, and ship food products. Major agricultural products company DuPont has taken interest in the packaging problem, dubbing it a quiet revolution in food production efficiency. It maintains a packaging industry blog and recently hosted its 30th Awards for Packaging Innovation contest.
In January 2017, German discounters Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd announced a partnership with startup accelerator programme TechFounders to promote innovation in sustainable packaging materials. Aldi has initiated various measures to consistently reduce the waste generated by packaging. It has set a goal of cutting the use of packaging materials by 30% by 2025, and replace all its private-label product packaging with 100% recyclable materials.
Innovative packaging companies like TemperPack are positioning themselves to help companies address one of our food system’s worst sustainability problems. Although innovative packaging is a relatively small subset of the agrifood tech sector compared to precision ag or automation, there are an interesting array of technologies coming to light.
Here’s a list of sustainable packaging companies applying technology to packaging’s end-of-life predicament:
Competitive Green Technologies has created a 100% compostable resin solution for injection molded single-serve beverage containers, oxygen and water vapor barriers, films, and thermoformed food packaging. The company developed its biomass technology in cooperation with the end-customers, molders, farmers, and Canada’s University of Guelph.
Eco-Products is tackling the disposable container and utensil space offering plant-based hot cups, cold cups, paper food containers, and more. Some of its products are also made from post-consumer recycled content like plastic, fiber, and polyestrene.
Evocative Design has a new packaging solution based on ag-waste and fungi that is fully compostable. Its products range from beautiful leather-like textiles to high-performance foams and cellular scaffolding and it serves a variety of industries beyond the food space.
Georgia Institute of Technology researchers recently developed a new material made from crab shells and tree fibers that could someday replace flexible packaging. The product, made by spraying and then drying multiple layers of chitin derived from crab shells and cellulose from trees, forms a flexible film similar to that of plastic packaging. The material is also strong, transparent and compostable, and has reduced oxygen permeability.
Green Cell Foam is corn-based and completely biodegradable and compostable. It can be used to ship temperature-sensitive goods and food and is intended to replace harsh polystyrene foams. The company specializes in wine shippers, shipping coolers and custom packaging orders. Its team of packaging engineers will work closely with clients to develop a “green” and highly effective new design to ship your goods safely and sustainably.
Heat Genie has developed a self-heating technology that allows the contents to be heated in less than two minutes with the push of a button located on the lightweight packaging. The materials it uses are safe and recyclable according to the startup.
Loliware has combined seaweed intelligence with innovative manufacturing methods to create Loliware Edible Tech (LET), which it claims is the first certified edible bioplastic in the world. It started by creating edible straws.
TIPA Sustainable Packaging, which has won awards for its packaging, compares its product to orange peel. Unlike regular plastic that will last for hundreds of years, its product will decompose within just 180 days in compost conditions.
US Bioplastics offers what it describes as an earth-friendly, patented polymer that transforms agricultural feedstock waste, paper production byproducts, and other plant waste into responsible, biorenewable, water-degradable, biodegradable, short-term plastic products. As its branded product Gatoresin naturally degrades in water, it also releases beneficial antioxidants.
Valentis Nanotech combines nanoparticles with cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) to produce a biodegradable substance made from plant pulp waste that is highly customizable. The product is strong, transparent, and lightweight while providing anti-bacterial protection and a barrier for gas and water.