In 2019 biocomposite materials specialist Sulapac finalized an A-round of financing and welcomed new investors, including Chanel. Sulapac CEO Suvi Haimi talks to Luxe Packaging Insight about the Finnish company’s new business model, its launch of a range of flexible materials and its ambitions to provide a cleaner alternative to plastic for luxury markets.
How have you allocated the €15m from your most recent round of funding?
First of all, we were very happy to be able to select the investors for this round: one of the main criteria was that they share the same agenda and core values that we’ve built our business on. When we founded Sulapac in 2016 our aim was to design and manufacture materials where sustainability was a priority not just at the raw materials stage, but at every step of the value chain.
As to the €15m, a portion is going into R&D to work on our recipes, but the main part is allowing us to scale up our business.
How has your business model changed?
In 2019 we shifted from manufacturing cosmetic jars to producing the material itself, via our production partners. Last year, we launched the Sulapac straw (a partnership with Stora Enso), which can be used for up to 24 hours. We want to show that in addition to cosmetics packaging, we can make numerous other items with our material. Our vision is to make Sulapac the new standard in sustainable materials replacing plastic and to attain this goal we need to broaden our portfolio to numerous other applications.
Helping brands communicate on the final product is another priority; we have a responsibility to educate consumers and our customers on what a truly sustainable choice entails.
You offer two main Sulapac ranges: Universal and Premium. What other innovations are coming to the portfolio?
When we started the company we wanted to set ourselves apart from our competitors not just by bringing a material to market, but a finalized product that represented the identity of its founders—Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo and myself. We are proud of our Scandinavian roots and wanted to give these jars a bit of Scandinavian spirit so all the details were inspired by nature. Sulapac has a ceramic touch and feel, a reminder of the stones on the Northern beaches, while the color palette recalls the colors of Finnish forests. From this first ceramic-like material we’ve moved towards more a more flexible version, which we are launching this autumn.
So now both ranges—Universal and Premium—are available in two versions: Rigid and Flexible.
What kind of applications can we expect for your new flexible grades?
Hangers for luxury retail is one example, as well as hygiene products and packaging for cosmetics and jewelry.
Along with the Flexible range, are there any other innovations in the pipeline?
Yes, we have another application launching in the fourth quarter, but that is still under wraps.
You forged a partnership with Quadpack; what does this entail?
Quadpack is our Preferred Global Cosmetic Packaging Partner and provider of the Sulapac Nordic Collection, our range of cosmetics jars. We provide them with the material. They are very much committed to growing the collection with new designs and formats made of our Universal Flexible and Universal Rigid grades.
Which of your grades, Premium or Universal, is getting more attention from brands?
At the moment it is pretty much evenly split; the Premium version is composed of more wood chips, which calls for specific mold designs, whereas the Universal grades can go into existing plastic molds. Many luxury brands demand the same mechanical properties as PP, which is why we have created the more flexible material that behaves mechanically in a very similar way without compromising on sustainability—it is fully biodegradable and leaves no permanent microplastics behind.
What sets Sulapac apart from other bio-based materials?
As I mentioned, our materials do not leave traces of permanent microplastics if they accidentally end up in the natural environment. PLA, for example, is bio-based and biodegradable, but in the ocean it can take 30 years to biodegrade, and in landfill it could take decades. Our straw, however, biodegrades faster than birch leaves in a marine environment. In the case of cosmetic jars, tests have shown that the same jar made of wood would biodegrade at a slower rate that one made of Sulapac. Our Universal, Premium and Straw recipes biodegrade even in the marine environment.
How does Sulapac fit into the recycling stream?
The current preferred recycling method for Sulapac is organic recycling: our materials are industrially compostable according to the European standard EN 13432. Both mechanical and chemical recycling are potential recycling routes for Sulapac in the future.
If we look at mechanical recycling in terms of European numbers, 16% of plastics are currently recycled and even in the most optimistic forecast, this will reach just 37% in 2050, so claiming that mechanical recycling will solve the plastic waste problem is a fallacy; the infrastructure needs to be developed. Of course we also need to quickly adopt new sustainable materials, reduce consumption and encourage reuse.
We believe that the future of recycling is in chemical recycling of plastics and biodegradable materials—it’s the only recycling method that achieves high efficiency. If we could collect in closed loop, Sulapac could be recycled seven times over.
However, we understand the limitations in the current recycling infrastructure so we’ve designed our material so that wherever it ends up, it’s better than plastic.
Where do you see Sulapac in five years?
By then we hope to have created a global brand that is recognized not just by our customers, but by the end consumer as well as a truly sustainable yet fully functional alternative to plastic.