Episode 105: Sustainable Packaging Is Being Served in the Freezer Aisle (Transcript)

April 26, 2021

22 Min Read

[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.


[00:00:26] Liz: Hi everyone. This is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Kailey Donewald, Founder of Sacred Serve, which is a female-founded brand that's launching the first recyclable and compostable ice cream carton. Welcome and thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:40] Kailey Donewald: Thank you so much for having me, Liz.

[00:00:42] Liz: Please, tell me more about Sacred Serve story and how you got here.

[00:00:45] Kailey: Yes, that's a good question. I actually was originally working in consulting when I first graduated college. It really came about because I did some traveling and was feeling rather unhealthy. Essentially, started a two-week raw food cleanse, so really just fresh fruits and vegetables for two weeks. It was a little cleanse I was doing when I was traveling through Indonesia. Within that amount of time, just two weeks, my body completely healed itself of both asthma and allergies that I had really suffered with since early, early childhood.

Every doctor told me this was just the way I was born, that I would need medicine for the rest of my life. But to realize that just by changing my diet for two weeks could have such a profound impact on my health overall, really made me start to question the food being offered to consumers and, could I do something to really challenge that? 

[00:01:43] Liz: This is really personal for you. 

[00:01:45] Kailey: Yes. It's extremely personal. I was just very disillusioned by what I saw in the marketplace at that time because, really, I grew up eating the standard American diet. No real difference between what I was eating and my friends. It was dairy, processed foods, refined oils, and things that are just found so commonly in a lot of the foods that we're buying these days. To really recognize that by eliminating a lot of those things, my body could have a chance to really heal itself was really powerful.

I think it was pretty sad to realize that I wasn't born with these conditions, but it really was giving myself these conditions my whole life through the food choices that I was making without even realizing it. Even worse, no doctor ever asked about my diet. It was only a conversation of what medicines I would need to be on for the rest of my life.

[00:02:49] Liz: It's so true. I think a lot of people are there with you. We're just more aware now, and we question things like our diet and nutrition and then try to heal that way. 

[00:02:59] Kailey: Yes, exactly. After that point, when I realized all of this, I wound up going back to school for nutrition to really learn and understand what food can do for us. Just the sensitivities that we're having and why we're seeing more of that these days than ever before. What's going on with our food system behind the scenes, and how that's playing hand in hand with the medical system, and what's being offered to us. It's all just reactionary treatment instead of that preventative medicine.

The preventative medicine angle was something that I really thought and started to explore on some of my travels to places like India, where they just have a whole different type of system. It really does look to prevent as opposed to just treat. 

[00:03:50] Liz: Amazing. What a journey. Thankfully for us, it brought you to creating some yummy goodness that's actually good for us. I wanted to hear about you launching the first recyclable and compostable carton. That's amazing. I love a quote that I read recently from your company that said, "While the world loves ice cream, recycling centers do not." [laughs] That is so true. Please, tell me more about this innovative new carton, and the process that you went through to get it to market. 

[00:04:23] Kailey: When I first started this company four years ago, it was when I even realized that ice cream pints are not currently recyclable. I was really wanting to come to market with this product that challenged the landscape of food being offered to consumers, really from a nutritional standpoint. I think I realized very quickly that sustainability and packaging would be a large piece of that conversation as well.

When I looked to launch our first product, there really were no options available to me that were recyclables. That was my biggest concern, was trying to figure out how can I bring something to market that's not going to end up in landfills. It was challenging both to find a solution, as well as find someone willing to work with that as such small scale, which I think a lot of the merchant brands really struggle with across the board.

We originally came to market with a post-consumer recycled paper board, which was the best we could do at the time. Just for people listening, the reason that you can't recycle ice cream pints is because they contain a plastic lining on the inside that prevents it from leaking, so it's this moisture barrier. Until this point in time, that has always been plastic.

That's the piece and people would say, "You can recycle plastic. You can recycle paperboard. What's the problem?" The issue is that when they're combined together, you really need some high-tech equipment to pull them apart and be able to recycle them. That's just not something that the infrastructure has in place at this point in time. Anything with those two combined is actually rendered trash.

It took us about four years of searching to finally find a company out of the UK and their name is Delipac. They had been working for the last eight years on this innovation to really make that inner eco-coding plastic-free. What they've developed is really this water-based moisture barrier that they're applying in a relatively proprietary way to this paperboard that makes it that really strong resistant moisture barrier just like plastic, but it's 100% plastic-free.

[00:06:42] Liz: That's amazing. What you said about the plastic liner and also contamination has always been an issue. What were some of the challenges? Four years, I give you so much credit. I just can't believe that you being a smaller brand had to push this to market. Please, talk about the challenges that you encountered. 

[00:07:03] Kailey: Yes. I think, for one, it really didn't seem like the technology existed until very recently. When I first started doing this searching, what I was really finding was just more plant-based solutions that maybe reduced the amount of plastic in there but still contain plastics, so it's always going to be trash. That was really the issue. It was both not having a technology exists, as well as what did exist wasn't fully there. Even if we wanted to get close, those manufacturers weren't really willing to work with us at such small scale.

What we were doing was reintroduced this really unique shaped box, kind of like a takeout style box with a full top lid. The reason we did that is in part because it uses less material. It was a little bit more of a sustainable option with the reduction of that full extra lid, but with that, we were working with a very specific manufacturer. We would have to import the sustainable paperboard to that manufacturer and have this top redesigned. At this volume that we were running, they were just unwilling to make those kinds of upgrades for us.

Eventually, we went head down and worked for three years to really get our sales up and our volumes up. That's the point in time that we were, fortunately, connected with another supplier here in the US who has a relationship with this company out in the UK. They said, "We'll work with you. We'll redesign this box and we'll do it on this fully sustainable paper board." That was a conversation that I certainly wouldn't have been able to have or support three, four years ago because our volumes would have been too small to even work with someone like this.

I think that's what makes it really tough for these emerging brands who have these really lofty mission-based goals for the environment and for our health starting out. We're the ones that are willing to jump through all these hoops and pay premiums to get this, but often it's not even available to us because we're just starting out and people don't want to take a chance on us.

[00:09:20] Liz: Exactly. I'm glad you followed through on that. How was the testing end of that in terms of making sure it is actually recyclable and it is compostable, because that's a big part.

[00:09:32] Kailey: Yes, I'm glad you brought that up, because we're starting to see some greenwashing going on in our industry right now with different people claiming that they have recyclable cartons and whatnot. That's the biggest piece that they don't have, is the credentials and testing behind all of this. It's a very clear reason as to why, because all of this testing costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We are very fortunate that Delipac, out of the UK, has done and completed all of this testing from being certified 100% plastic-free down to the compostable and biodegradable aspects of this packaging. We have all of that that has been given to us and we can now share that and prove that these really are compostable right at home, which is something that is very new and unique.

[00:10:26] Liz: That's fantastic. Why aren't more companies making the switch to more sustainable options? Is it strictly cost?

[00:10:34] Kailey: Yes, I think it's cost. There's probably a time element of just the time involved in switching out and upgrading all of these units and putting people on it. I really think, though, that at the end of the day it is probably a cost factor. I can just only imagine the logistics. For us, it's easy to move on this because we're so small and nimble and buy relatively small quantities. If you think about some of these larger brands, I don't know how long they sit on packaging inventory, but they could be buying for a year or two out.

To either trash their existing inventory and upgrade to something new, or on the other side, it's just going to take them a lot longer to start to implement these sustainable changes. I think, some big company, like Ben & Jerry's, they're working with a solution that uses less plastic. I'm sure that they're having these conversations right now. I'm hopeful that a lot of the larger guys will start to move on this. I think we're just looking at that being months or potentially years out, just based on how big their operations are.

[00:11:48] Liz: I bet. I hadn't even thought of how far in advance they order packaging. That's such a great point.

[00:11:54] Kailey: Yes, I think that there's so many nuances that these companies are dealing with. Really, at the end of the day, people always ask us, "How do you think we can get these larger companies to take action?" The consumer is so powerful. Without the consumer, these brands have nothing. The louder consumers are and, more than anything, voting with your dollars is the most helpful thing you can do. You can do that really by supporting the companies that are already taking these initiatives. Because what that does is it shows these larger brands, "Huh, this smaller company is taking market share from us. Why is that?"

If they think it's because the smaller company has sustainable packaging, then they're going to enact that a lot sooner than they would have normally, because they're realizing it's a competitive advantage and consumers are really wanting this.

[00:12:48] Liz: Absolutely. That's great advice. To that point, are you finding that more folks are reaching out to you now that you've done it and hoping to follow your path?

[00:12:59] Kailey: Yes. It's definitely been a lot of smaller emerging brands that are super excited about this innovation and wanting to adopt it themselves. We're seeing great consumer feedback and I would say, more than anything, it's really like the gatekeepers in our industry are actually the retail buyers who decide what goes on shelf. We're seeing more success in our conversations with them, sharing that really we're the first and only ones that have this solution because all of these retailers have green initiatives.

They're really focused on what their consumer wants to see. Specifically, in the natural foods channel, this is very in line with consumer desires. That's going to be our most important push at this time, winning over those retail buyers and getting more placement so that consumers really have a better choice.

[00:13:52] Liz: Absolutely. I know for you it goes beyond sustainable packaging. Your entire company is focused on being a sustainable business between your ingredients, now your packaging, and your mission. Was that intentional when you first started out or is it just part of who you are and then it translated into your business?

[00:14:16] Kailey: No, it's always been very intentional. Really, my reason for starting this company upfront is when I had this healing through food, really, a product-based business wasn't even on my radar. I went back to school for nutrition and became a health practitioner where I was working one-on-one with individuals to adopt healthier diets. What I saw during my year of that practice was, we were having such tremendous results.

People were really weaning themselves off medicine and feeling so much better physically, but also from a mental health perspective and just how powerful it is to really rebalance the gut. I just felt like this information and this education is so important and so powerful that I'm not having quite enough of an impact just working one-on-one.

That's when I really started to think, "Can I create a product that carries this really similar mission of healing through food? Then I could really ship it a lot farther and wider than I myself could ever reach." If we could create this platform through this brand, then you would have a much more captivated audience to share this type of education that we really want to be sharing.

Whether that's on a sustainability front or the nutrition front. Overall, I would say we're really just trying to be the best to mother nature as we possibly can and learn as much from mother nature as we can. I think that's another big element, tapping back into what nature has already presented us with. The further away we get from nature, the unhealthier we get. The more we can take care of nature, the healthier we get, because we're only as healthy as where our food comes from.

[00:15:56] Liz: Absolutely. I loved how you made that extend into your packaging as well. That's awesome. Like you said, you've used nutrition to heal yourself, and this is very personal for you. I know this is a big ask, but do you have any tips for someone who wants to get started on a health and healing journey like that?

[00:16:16] Kailey: Yes, I would say this is the best practice that I have found to be successful. Thinking about crowding out your diet instead of taking things away.

The more you can add something good into your daily habits and your daily routines, the better. Instead of, saying, "Remove or get rid of meat, or get rid of dairy", just try incorporating more alternatives. Try and getting almond milk or try and get almond milk-based yogurt, or different things and see.

I think it's so exciting, now it's easier than ever because there are so many great alternatives to some of our favorite things, like ice cream. It's becoming easier and easier to really remove meat, dairy, and some of these other harmful ingredients from our diet. I would say that's the biggest focus, just trying to work with as many different plants as you can on a daily basis. Just really focus on getting that, instead of focusing on what you're not getting.

[00:17:19] Liz: I love that. It's almost like gratitude. That's a very positive way to look at it instead of the opposite. Which a lot of people, they remove everything and then they feel great, then they don't really stick to it. That's great advice.

[00:17:36] Kailey: Yes, it's helpful to know. This is something that honestly I haven't even still gotten very good at myself, but that all-or-nothing mentality, like you're saying, people will eliminate 12 things at one time and really go for those dramatic results. I see it in exercise as well. If I can't get an hour workout in and sweat, then it's not worth it.

Something that my yoga teacher in India, as well as my functional medicine doctor here, both always tell me that it's so much better-- Like from a yoga perspective, it's so much better to practice just 15 minutes of yoga every single day than it is to practice for two hours twice a week.

That mentality is so hard for our society to grasp, I think. We really want to see these quick, hard, big results but it's the little changes that happen over time that make the biggest difference. If you can only incorporate a salad once every day, that's better than two days of a hundred percent plant-based eating. It's just those little changes that have really powerful effects.

[00:18:54] Liz: That's so true. That could be as far as sustainability goes, too. We always say, "Progress over perfection, and each day is a new day to start." I think if you reward yourself for that and just keep moving forward, you'll stick to it [laughs].

[00:19:10] Kailey: Exactly [chuckles].

[00:19:12] Liz: Do you think more people are focused on monitoring where their food is coming from, where their packaging is coming from? Do you see that shift? 

[00:19:21] Kailey: Yes, I do. We get more requests now than we used to about where certain ingredients come from and where our packaging comes from. Even recently I've gotten requests to see the certifications, which is really exciting to see that coming from consumers, because it means that they're very tapped in, they're really paying attention and understanding what's going on here.

I think it's going to just be continued conversations, but as the generations get younger and younger, this is absolutely top of mind and what they care about. We're seeing just all the negative effects of what we're doing to our environment these days. I think it becomes more and more pressing as generations get younger. I'm very optimistic that this will become more of the norm as we go on.

[00:20:12] Liz: That's great and optimistic. A lot of our listeners, Kailey, they are handling the end-of-life of a product. Do you have any advice for them on how to help with the plastics issues, single-use, from a designer and producer's perspective?

[00:20:33] Kailey: Yes, that's a tough one. For us, I think the challenge was just finding a solution that existed. Period. Which seems to take a really long time, but it does seem to be helpful to just remove as much of the plastic as possible. We're seeing that across the board, just through our supply chain, as well as our end consumer packaging that there can be plastics throughout the whole line of it.

We're starting to even look at requesting different things from suppliers and how it shifts. We're buying more things in bulk.  Yes, it's tough. I think from the consumer perspective, it's just about really being aware of that before you buy some things, recognizing that you're going to have to be the one to dispose of that, how do you feel about that, and do you have a different solution for what you're picking up.

[00:21:28] Liz:  Definitely. Starting a company, in general, is a tough undertaking. Anything you wish you would have done differently?

[00:21:36] Kailey: Yes, I think the most helpful thing I did was really surround myself with very experienced advisors and other founders that have gone through this journey as well. I think my mistake was not doing that soon enough. I started as a solo founder. There's a lot of people that will have co-founders. But, especially when you're alone founder, it can get very lonely. You're making all of these decisions and you can get very in your head about it.

Yes, having a group or at least one advisor or mentor early on that has taken a company zero to one, zero to a million is this really critical stage that not a lot of people have experience in. I think people can get confused. We're in the food business. It'd be easy for me to maybe try and find an advisor that had worked at Kraft, or some major CPG food company, but that's not always helpful. It's actually a lot more helpful to find someone that has been a founder themselves and gone through the exact same types of challenges that you have because they're so different in this early stage.

Yes, surrounding yourself and finding mentors that have been founders themselves, or really been involved in the startup phase would be extremely helpful for avoiding some of the very common pitfalls that every founder goes through.

[00:23:01] Liz: Absolutely. That's great advice. What's next for you and for Sacred Serve?

[00:23:06] Kailey:  Here we're looking at a lot of growth, so we're excited to be adding a ton of new doors this year. We've expanded from just the Midwest to really be East and West Coast. We're working on building those out now. We'll have a couple of new flavors, we just launched a new Cookies and Cream flavor that we're excited about. We'll continue to really challenge the ingredients and the sourcing, really, that's going on in our category right now, and then we're excited to just get this new packaging on as many shelves as we can and start really pushing on that front too.

[00:23:42] Liz: That's amazing. Are you feeling pressured to move beyond gelato?

[00:23:48] Kailey:  Yes, I wouldn't say I'm necessarily feeling pressured. I do always see a ton of opportunity out there for new product innovation. I think founders can get in trouble here where it's so exciting to create new products and we have all these ideas and all this technology behind us to make it happen, but it's good to remain restrained and make sure that our core competency of ice cream is being received and we can really come to market as this functional leader in the space.

For now, we're remaining focused on ice cream, but in the near term there is a lot that we can do with this young coconut meat, which is the base of all of our flavors. Which is something that I discovered while living abroad. This has a great nutritional profile when compared to coconut milk and we can do all sorts of things with it. Yes, there will be more innovation in the pipeline. We're probably looking at 2022, 2023.

[00:24:50] Liz:  How exciting. I love your focus. That's amazing.

[00:24:54] Kailey: Yes, it's a tough one but I would say those advisors come in handy, because it's their experience for sure that's recognizing, "Look, you really got to scale this up and have consumers really know you as being good at this one specific thing before you try and talk to them about something new".

[00:25:13] Liz: It's brilliant. For your launch of the new packaging, what are you aiming for in terms of percentage of all products? How much you can get into the container?

[00:25:26] Kailey: We can get 100% of our product into these containers now and any future innovation we do. We're so fortunate that this technology and just the sustainable paperboard is applicable for a lot of different categories. It's oven heat-safe, as all the way up to freezer safe. There's a ton of things that we can consistently work out and make sure that we're always having this type of sustainable packaging and frozen stuff.

[00:25:54] Liz: That's fantastic. It was worth your time, all of that due diligence you did for four years.

[00:26:01] Kailey: [chuckles] Exactly. It was very worth our time. I agree. I'm just always surprised that it hasn't been done before. Again, just knowing that this company went through eight years to bring this to life and the cost of all of those certifications, it makes sense why this hasn't yet. Eight years ago, the conversation wasn't as pressing as it is now, but I think maybe there's going to be some new entrance coming out with new sustainable options here. That'll be exciting too.

[00:26:34] Liz: That will be exciting. I can't wait to see. Please, tell us where we can buy Sacred Serve? I can't wait. I know my son will want to try the Cookies and Cream [chuckles].

[00:26:44] Kailey: Absolutely. Yes, we have nationwide shipping from our website. Anyone in the US can get it right now. We have retailers built out here in the Midwest, as well as a little bit in the Southeast and California right now. Our website sacredserve.com has a great store tracker for anyone looking to find a retailer in their area.

[00:27:07] Liz: That's awesome. Thank you so much. This has been so inspiring. I give you so much credit for sticking with it and rolling this out. I really hope you inspire a ton of other brands to get on board with sustainable packaging like this.

[00:27:21] Kailey: Thank you so much. I hope so, too.

[00:27:23] Liz: Thank you, Kailey. Enjoy the rest of your busy day.

[00:27:28] Kailey: Thank you, you as well.

[00:27:31] Liz: Thank you for listening. It would mean the world if you would take a moment to rate or review this podcast. If you share it with us on one of our social networks, we are giving out some fun Nothing Wasted Podcast swag. Just tag us and see what you get. Thanks so much.


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