Last May, EU proposed a total ban on several plastic items to reduce the amount of throwaway plastic. What if you were told that one Finnish company can replace them all with biodegradable materials? I had a chance to interview their marketing and communications expert, Antti Valtonen.
The story is well-known if you’ve come across articles of Sulapac (and I bet you have). At the start of 2016, Suvi Haimi and Laura Kyllönen founded Sulapac after taking a look at the products on their bathroom shelves. Most of them, even the organic ones, were wrapped in plastic packaging. This moment of clarity led to the formation of their mission, a vision that still carries on to this day: saving the world from plastic waste.
The first innovation of Sulapac was the formulation of completely biodegradable material. Through the material formulation, Suvi and Laura came to another important realization that immediately set Sulapac apart: they needed to finalize the product.
“Instead of starting to make rounds just with the idea and formula, they decided smartly to make finalized premium package prototypes that they could show to customers. Not everybody believed in their product and they wanted to show the potential of the material and how usable a package it could actually make.”
The second innovation was to make Sulapac formula easily applicable. With licensing, there was no need to build new factories and production could be easily expanded. Sulapac has own portfolio of ready-made packaging solutions, for example for cosmetic products. Sulapac licenses its material and technology for companies to produce their own products. Licensing model received a push at the end of spring 2018, when a joint development agreement was announced with widely known pulp and paper manufacturer Stora Enso. This partnership started in 2017, when Sulapac took part in Stora Enso’s Accelerator programme along Aalto University and other start-ups to ideate renewable materials.
Great innovations don’t, however, market and develop themselves. Building a right team was, according to Antti, one of the keys to the fast success of Sulapac.
“Suvi and Laura know what they don’t know. They have surrounded themselves with the right people, who have long experience both in the Finnish and global field. Start-ups don’t have that much staff, so every person needs to be the right one.”
Antti, himself, seems to be one of those people. He has over fifteen years of experience from software and telecom industry, ten of which were accomplished in global marketing and communications. He is a relatively new face at Sulapac, having joined the ranks this May. During the summer while you were perhaps chilling by the lake, Antti has been building.
“The foundations of marketing are vital, and the groundwork needs to be laid firmly. Sulapac’s mission is to be the world’s leading supplier of ecological plastic substitute. The main messages and value chain need to reflect that. We have been establishing the brand identity, taglines and so on to get all the pieces together.”
Sulapac is a surprisingly well-known company for someone who has been in the field less than three years. Which factors played into this success?
“First, the timing was perfect, since environmental consciousness is one of the largest macrotrends at the moment. Sulapac is a unique innovation which answers to the demand and from the very beginning Sulapac brand building was considered equally as important as the core material and technology. This is also an exceptional team of people with extensive amount of experience.”
With this combined international experience, Sulapac is heading abroad. First taste of that occurred in May, when Sulapac joined other Nordic designer and innovator brands at the Zero Waste Bistro at WantedDesign Manhattan.
“As we speak, Sulapac is at the global Luxe Pack event that is organized this time in Monaco. We were also last year’s Luxe Pack in Green winners for best green packaging solution.”
Winning and getting recognition in these kinds of competitions have played a large role in Sulapac’s recognizability among consumers and press.
“This visibility sparks interest in people “, Antti tells. “The product is extraordinary, and, I’m just gonna say this, awesome. This level of innovation and the buzz it creates accumulates quickly with the help of the green wave trend.”
The buzz didn’t come without a few challenges, though. Starting from buffing the injection moulding process out, Sulapac continues developing and polishing it for a larger-scale production continuously.
“Blunders and errors are present every day. Compared to bigger organizations with infinite resources, start-ups need to operate on minimal foundations. Cosmetics certainly wasn’t the easiest field to start out on, but Sulapac met the challenge head on.”
It sounds definitely like Sulapac has some highly passionate people behind the scenes. What experiences has Antti had in motivating the team?
“Coming from a corporate background with thousands of employees and a big budget, it’s certainly different, but in a good way. I think that people who like the start-up environment are also the kind of people who withstand risks and uncertainty more and think outside the box. Sulapac’s clear vision and direction helps in getting the people on board. The team has unbelievable ambition and they are truly enthusiastic about our mission to save the world from plastic waste. They can already see how we are getting there.”