When three young mums banded together in 2013 to launch a business called Honeywrap, little did they know how seriously successful it would become.
It has only been five years since Honeywrap was launched, but a lot has happened in the global war against plastics pollution since then – and particularly so in 2018.
Founders Jo Falloon, Tara Strahan and Amy DeMuth were all occupational therapists in 2013 who shared a love of the great outdoors and a major distaste for waste and society’s over-reliance on plastic.
“At the supermarket, I’d be annoyed by the sight of someone putting a single courgette in a plastic bag,” Jo tells me. We’re sitting in Tara’s Grey Lynn kitchen looking out on the back shed that has been Honeywrap’s business base from day one.
She was also surprised by the amount of plastic wrap in lunchboxes at the kindy her son attended. “I thought there just had to be a better way.”
Then when Tara’s five-year-old son brought home a beeswax product from a classroom assignment, it resulted in a Google search that revealed there were no beeswax wraps being made in New Zealand. It was time to do a little research and experimentation – to start up a business to market “one of the best reusable food wraps on the planet”.
The three got together over a glass of wine and Honeywrap was born.
Their core product has always been the food wrap handmade from certified organic cotton and a secret blend of beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil, which gives the cloth a tackiness so it can be shaped over food and dishes.
Today Honeywrap is available at 200 retail stockists (online and bricks ‘n mortar) around the country, including eco-store and some iconic gift stores such as Te Papa, Auckland Museum and Auckland Art Gallery. And it has been joined by other eco-friendly food-related products including metal straws, reusable drink bottles, coffee cups and net bags.
There have been export sales too – with a lot of interest coming out of Japan. However, freight costs are proving to be a stumbling block.
Honeywrap features designs by leading New Zealand artists and there have been two “cool collaborations” with not-for-profits: Sustainable Coastlines and Project Jonah.
“It’s about tying in the importance of keeping our oceans clean,” explains Jo. “Which is a popular cause for most people.”
Amy has since left the business – but Tara still works in it full-time and Jo part-time. Things never stand still when you’re a mum juggling family and business commitments.
Honeywrap also employs two additional full-timers and four part-timers.
“We’re really proud of the fact that we’re also providing work for people with special needs,” says Jo – a cause they’ve been passionate about since their occupational therapy days, when they saw how hard it was for people with head injuries to find work.
Having travelled extensively in their 20s, both Jo and Tara have long been aware of the damage that plastic packaging is doing to the environment. When they launched Honeywrap, the issues surrounding plastics usage were attracting few headlines – but that is all changing in 2018 and public awareness is now widespread. This, they believe, will boost product sales because Honeywrap is considered such an easy solution to plastic
Schools are also going ‘waste-free’ – where students are discouraged from wrapping their lunches in throw-away plastic – and this, in turn, offers opportunities for the brand to be associated with fund-raising activities.
For Jo and Tara demand for their product always exceeds expectations, and keeping up with demand has been a challenge. With minimal marketing they’ve managed to double sales every year – aided by such events such as Plastic Free July, and legislative initiatives such as the Government’s recent compulsory ban on single-use plastic shopping bags – all of which gets people thinking more about ditching plastic.
Sourcing raw materials has not always been easy, and with no business background, running Honeywrap has been a steep learning curve, says Jo. “We’ve just had to learn everything as
we went along. Luckily we have some amazing friends who’ve helped us when needed – even people we didn’t know that well have helped us, purely because they like the product.”
Their accountant has proved invaluable for advice too,
If they had the chance to do it all again Jo believes they would definitely partner with a business mentor earlier, to provide some guidance on planning and forecasting.
“We’re getting better, but it’s still not our forté.”
Dealing with competition
Jo and Tara know they’re backing a winner with Honeywrap. The product’s point of difference (apart from its unique designs) is that it’s organic and non-toxic and, unlike competitor products, is wrapped with non-plastic recyclable packaging. It’s also genuinely home compostable, not just commercially compostable.
Despite knowing they have a superior product, they’re always wary of competing brands entering the market. While it does mean upping their marketing spend, they’ve learnt not to get distracted by competitors, and to back themselves.
“We’ve also always been a little nervous, and conservative, when it comes to risk,” admits Jo. With hindsight they could have been a little less risk averse, she says.
But right now, the big goal is to have Honeywrap in every New Zealand kitchen – a drawer full of Honeywrap to replace the ubiquitous plastic cling-wraps.
Jo and Tara’s motivation is the “overwhelming, depressing images in the media of all the plastic pollution floating around in the oceans”.
“What keeps us inspired is knowing that we are part of the solution,” says Jo. “And Honeywrap is an easy solution for people.
“It can all be overwhelming, but if everyone just made a little change then it can make a big difference.
“We’re also inspired by the feedback we get from people at various events – by the absolute passion they have for the product. It’s so great to see.”