The learning curves and obstacles are huge when growing a sustainable business. Sometimes it’s a simple solution and sometimes you have to reinvent the wheel like Great Wrap did with their home compostable cling wrap made from potato waste.
Words by Ella Liascos
It’s no secret that business has been a major contributor to the climate disaster, but it’s also proving to be an effective pathway out of it.
A perfect example is husband and wife duo Julia and Jordy Kay, the founders of Great Wrap, a compostable cling wrap made from potato waste that breaks down in your home compost in under 180 days.
Despite the challenge of launching during the Covid outbreak in 2020, they’ve gone from strength to strength, opening a factory in the Mornington Peninsula, scoring an interview on The Project and partnering with some notable and like-minded investors.
We had a chat with them about how they pivoted for success during the pandemic and got their tips on sustainable product development, authentic marketing and managing mistakes along the way.
Like all great business ideas, Julia and Jordy were responding to a real problem in their respective industries in architecture and winemaking. Both of them saw endless kilometres of pallet wrap that took decades to break down after one short use. “I think probably the penny drop moment was when we were in the winery talking about pallet wrap and wondering why there was so much waste,” shares Julia. “We both just saw so much of it so frequently.”
Research and development
So how did an architect and a winemaker put their heads together and create a cling wrap made from potato waste? “Yeah well, it’s an interesting one,” Julia shares, “because we didn’t know what we know now about the whole compostable versus biodegradable argument.” The two processes are very different. Biodegradable products require a specific industrial environment to do so, whereas home compostable products behave much like a standard orange peel, making it the more sustainable option. In Great Wrap’s case, their plant based cling wrap degrades in a home compost bin in under 180 days — and if you’re into composting — it’s worm friendly too.
The first iteration of Great Wrap wasn’t quite what it is today and had some room for improvement. Their first round of cling wrap was “made from materials that we thought were the most sustainable at that point,” says Julia. “It was made from cornstarch, which obviously had been farmed with heaps of chemicals and heaps of water and we hadn’t realised it the first time around.” Once they realised corn starch wasn’t so sustainable, they began researching solutions. “It was after months of research that we found this data sheet that was really similar to what we were looking for and it kind of unfolded from there,” said Julia. “It was a lot of trial and error.”
“We saw such a big need and so many people wanting to jump on the journey, so we kept developing it.”
Research and development for sustainable products can involve paving new territory, which means encountering problems that don’t have clear solutions. “When I’m thinking about it now, it was a disaster. We basically bought a forty foot container of pallet wrap that actually didn’t work,” Julia says, laughing in hindsight at the moment Great Wrap felt like an impossible dream. “We already sold it to a heap of customers and we had to send it out. We tried the first twenty rolls and hoped they might be an anomaly in the mix but unfortunately it wasn’t.” Customers met the slightly flawed first product with understanding because, “they were our first believers,” says Julia. “We were really appreciative of their understanding and I think that’s kind of what kept going, because we saw such a big need and so many people wanting to jump on the journey, so we kept developing it.”
The product launch
Once the product was developed, the plan was to launch the commercial pallet wrap to service businesses first, followed by a cling wrap for home later on. They launched it the same month Covid hit and, “at the time, we thought we launched a business that was a complete belly flop,” laughs Julia. “There was definitely a week of thinking, ‘what have we done.’”
Jordy adds that there was definitely a point where they questioned “throwing in the towel.” But with a strong following and some media attention under their belt thanks to the pallet wrap launch, the couple decided to keep persisting. “We worked out we needed 10 thousand dollars to do a small run of cling wrap for home,” said Jordy. “So we did a pre-ordered campaign. Julia Photoshopped what would be the cling wrap and we took that 10 grand and turned it into a hundred grand within two months.”
Along the journey, Julia learned that customers are more forgiving than one might think, even when mistakes happen. “In your head, there’s this huge monster that is the customer and you think of it as this really big scary thing,” she shares, “but when you actually have a conversation with one of them, it’s like ‘hey! my cling wrap is not cutting’ and you’re like ‘sorry, we’re trying to improve on that — stay tuned and we’ll send you a reusable cutter’ and they’re like ‘thanks so much’ and you realise ‘oh, that wasn’t so bad.’ ”
Building a supportive community
Julia believes the positive response they got from customers who received a dodgy role of cling wrap came from building a strong community straight out of the gate. While neither of them have a formal marketing background, the couple relied on gut feelings when handling their communications from the beginning. “We’ve always tried to be really authentic,” says Julia. “I know that people say that all the time, but it was a problem that pissed us off. We tried to fix it and we never shied away when things went wrong and being really honest about that.”
Great Wrap’s journey illustrates that sharing the pitfalls in business can pay off in trust from your customers. “I think a lot of brands in the sustainability space try to be the most sustainable brand and ‘we’re perfect’ type thing. But we’ve been really clear about our journey and the changes that we’ve made and mistakes too and people have really picked up on that and were able to relate to it.” Julia’s tip for taking people on the journey of business without losing trust along the way is to avoid apologetic language. “Our first machine was really hard to use,” says Julia, “because it was the bottom of the range crappy machine. Very low-tech.” One of the first things they did was name the machine Nessy, telling customers that she’s a bit grumpy and taking time to settle in. The result was customers writing in saying, “Hey! Nessy must have been in a bad mood, I got a dodgy roll.”
“We never shied away when things went wrong and being really honest about that.”
Planning for a sustainable future
Creating a truly sustainable business model involves assessing your businesses impact at every level from packaging, supply chain and production. Great Wrap does all of this in spades, their product is made entirely at their Australian factory, shipped in recycled packaging and only within Australia to avoid carbon miles. Even after all of that, the couple have no intentions of slowing down.
So what’s next for Jordy and Julia? “We’re wanting to develop a composting arm within the business, where they take care of picking up compost from everyone who uses Great Wrap,” she shares. “There’s also the upstream side of things, where we’re working with Monash University to make the cling wrap from fruit waste. The idea is that the fruit waste will come from wineries that will re-buy the pallet wrap, so it’s pushing towards that circular economy model, which is really important.”