BeeBee beeswax food wraps
Single-use packaging is a major issue in the food supply chain and the reason why Kath Austin created BeeBee three years ago.
BeeBee produces food wraps, which are made from organic cotton infused with beeswax as a sustainable alternative to cling film.
A mother of two, Austin became concerned about how much more plastic would there be in the house when the second baby was coming, so she started to look for a solution.
“There is a global collective of people who make their beeswax wraps at home, so I decided to go about doing that,” she says. “I cut out some bedsheets and got some bee wax from a local keeper and set about trying to create some myself.”
BeeBee is today a profit-making business operating out of commercial premises in Cambridge, UK. “We have moved into commercial premises, our second because we’ve scaled up,” she says.
Sold online, BeeBee food wraps come in different, colourful patterns, in three sizes – large, medium and small – and are also available through retailers. Austin explains: “We’re working with some great brands, like Lakeland in a co-brand partnership, and with Abel & Cole and Milk & More.”
These beeswax food wraps work in the same fashion as cling film does to wrap around foodstuff. “You use the heat of your hands to shape it around the food. Because the wax softens under heat, it will stick to itself, just like cling film does,” explains Austin. “The great thing is that you can unwrap it, eat your food and then wash the wrap in cold, soapy water, give it a good scrub, drip dry and use it again,” she adds.
Austin said the lifecycle of BeeBee food wraps is one year, and then they can be used for compost.
BeeBee measures the impact the business has in the food ecosystem by counting the number of times that a person uses a wrap. Austin explains: “We give a conservative amount of 75 times for a wrap. So, for every time it is used you save a piece of plastic, then we’ve saved 20 million pieces of plastic from being used to date.”
BeeBee is a company in a constant product development mode. “We release new patterns quite often because that’s what people really are drawn to,” says Austin.
The latest development saw BeeBee release a plant-based version.
“We know plant-based products and veganism is at the increase and we wanted to offer something to people who rather want to use a food wrap that is also plant-based,” explains Austin.
The BeeBee plant-based food wrap is also an upcycled by-product. “The plant-based range of wraps uses the same organic cotton, but the wax is from plants,” explains Austin, adding that BeeBee uses sumac and rice.
“Plants have a wax-based layer to protect them from the elements. When you process rice and sumac the wax comes out, and it is used as a by-product for other industries,” she adds.
Last September Austin pitched the business to investors at BBC’s Dragon’s Den. While the business didn’t get the capital she sought, Austin came out stronger. Taking on board all the insights and criticisms investors shared in the show, BeeBee signed a distribution agreement with Green Pioneer to carry the wraps across Europe.
“The great thing is that you can unwrap it, eat your food and then wash the wrap in cold, soapy water, give it a good scrub, drip dry and use it again”Kath Austin, founder BeeBee
The business has taken up loans instead. “We did consider crowdfunding and equity funding, but because we were generating revenue, we thought that it was probably better to do loan finance, thereby regain control of the business,” says Austin. “We were able to pay back because we have revenue.” BeeBee worked with Foundation East, a not-for-profit social lender.
Could beeswax food wraps be a solution to reduce single-use plastic in packaged food in a commercial scale? Austin created BeeBee to provide consumers with an alternative to the cling film they use at home but admits she has thought about how big food corporation can use it on a commercial scale.
“I’m not sure the beeswax is commercially viable to be used in the supply chain and the production of food,” she says. “I think there might be some traction with the plant-based version, purely because we have a bit more control over the supply chain of the plant-based wax. We want to become a domestic solution for now,” she concludes.
Date published: 6 July 2020