Mushrooms and the gift of sustainability for Seedlip4 January 2021
While the focus of 2020 has by and large been on the impact of coronavirus on the hospitality sector and related decimation of sales to drinks and food, it has not all been negative news. Despite some pretty terrible conditions, companies are still tracking their sustainability goals and finding room to provide incredible innovations to the market. One such disruptive company is Seedlip who have been making waves in the non alcoholic adults drinks sector with their herbal infusions and mixers that have registered with consumers keen on a healthy , delicious drink that does not contain alcohol that they can enjoy with friends without feeling restricted to soft drinks. Matthew Rogerson caught up with Cathriona McCaffrey new product development manager to discuss sustainability and strategy in these challenging times.
Seedlip, for those who are unfamiliar, has an interesting genesis as a business and has been wildly successful in filling a gap in the market for adult drinks that are not soft drinks or virgin cocktails, which is a rapidly growing market. “What we like to say is Seedlip is what you drink when you’re not drinking,” says Cathriona McCaffrey. “Ben Branson, our founder, discovered an old 1651 herbal remedies book using distillation to create natural cures to medical maladies. After being served a sickly mocktail one evening he decided to see if he could create something that was better tasting and for him as an alternative to the poor choice available in this market. The distillation process is bespoke for each ingredient and combines this natural botany with his farming heritage as well as the process of seed to lip , leading to the product debuting in 2015, in Selfridges. It sold out first 1000 bottles 3 weeks , the next 100 in three days and the third in less than half an hour”
This very original history continues to form part of the ethos of the brand today. They are not content to have succeeded to this point but continue both to innovate flavours and products and think about how they can keep growing and delivering consumers new flavours and responsible packaging. “We know consumers want to make responsible, sustainable choices” says McCaffrey, “Our research and performance of our products show this. But we don’t want to simply tick boxes or provide something that is not scalable or valuable to the entire portfolio; we don’t see something as sustainable if it is only helping a niche area. Of course it is better to be doing something than nothing but we want the change to really matter and so our improvements and innovation are looking at mass change.”
This brings us to the focus of the discussion, which is a new packaging being brought out for their gifting range. And, as this is Seedlip, they have taken their queue from nature, with Mycelium. Mycelium is the root structure of mushrooms and is a bio-contributing material, which Seedlip is introducing as part of their continual efforts to celebrate and protect the natural world.
McCaffrey quotes the World Bank who have issued rather worrying forecasts “ The world currently generate 2.01 Billion tonnes of solid waste annually, which is set to rise to 3.4 Billion by 2050. Paper and Cardboard make about 17% of this and plastic about 12%. Why Mycelium is such an extraordinary product is that is is 100% home compostable, and does not contribute to global waste, in addition to using a fraction of the energy to produce”
One of the major consequences of the mass population lockdowns that have taken place worldwide is the move to remote working, but also the opportunity for many to experience the ability of nature to improve air quality and life rapidly. Air quality in major cities like London has dramatically improved, it is even more dramatic in places like Shanghai or Mumbai which typically experienced very poor air; with pure, pollutant free air being breathed in by many for the first time. In the case of nature, people have seen the parks and forests and local wild spaces full of life, sometimes this is noticed for the first time, others as the animals have finally found the space to move back in. This has reinforced the message of David Attenborough, Greta Thunig and others that it is not too late to stop the negative impact on the planet and even as individuals we can make a difference.
Having experienced this improved quality of life over the past 6 months, many consumers are reinforced in their convictions that sustainability is of vital importance. They don't want small step changes, they want to see innovation and sweeping change. They want to feel part of the solution, and one of the biggest platforms for this in packaging remains recycling or compostable packaging. If the packaging completely disappears it also does not create waste, in the same way as if it is recycled it remains circular and it also stays in the market. This is why Mycelium is of such interest, McCaffrey describes it as “ such a clever way of using a natural product into our packaging that does not leave waste, is home compostable and has the potential to be scaled for use across all our products. We don’t develop new packaging technology to just sit with one part of the business; our aim is to make it good for all our products, as that will magnify the benefits we can bring to the planet”
Seedlip are working with the Magical Mushroom Company, to create this gift set, which comprises; a full-size bottle of Seedlip Spice 94, a 100% recycled glass Highball and a Thyme seed paper neck tag. The box is composed of biomass and mycelium which creates a durable, lightweight, alternative packaging material that breaks down in compost or flower beds in around 40 days. In addition, the seeded neck tag [Thyme seeds] includes its own instructions for how to grow it, utilising the biodegradable box as a planter.
What is even more impressive is that each aspect of the packaging has been generated with sustainability as the priority. McCaffrey is clear about this, “ The box is made of biomass and mycelium which breaks down in soil after 45 days, the neck-tag is paper and seeded with Thyme seeds and the highball glass is made of 100% recycled glass. To grow your own fresh Thyme simply soak the tag in water, place it on a soil filled seed tray and cover with a fine layer of soil, keep indoors until sprouted. “
This attention to detail is very welcome, and comes at a time that consumers want transparency and honesty in their products; where they came from, how they were made and how to dispose of them responsibly. What Seedlip has achieved with the use of Mycelium is a very big step in the path towards a circular , sustainable economy. One of the major issues with compostable films and packaging previously has been that the chemical requirements to break them down mean that a specialist plant is needed to dispose of the product otherwise it will not decompose naturally or in the earth. This in turn means that compostable products are not in fact compostable as consumers understand it.
This is not the case with Mycelium. This alternative material uses less energy to create, and is 100% home compostable. McCaffrey describes how this has also been a relatively fast product development and launch. “One thing that has been a tremendous pleasure about this new product development and launch has been that it has been relatively fast. As we were aiming for Christmas we were working backwards about 12 months. However throwing coronavirus into the equation makes this even more impressive in my mind. We had an idea in January, and were able between March and September to see it materialise into the product that is going to be hitting the shops from this October. This idea to launch was about 9 months!”
This is very true. Normally one reads about iteration changes that take place over years in order to allow the machinery to scale up and the materials to be purchased and the increased volume to be reached. Here, from the idea and initial discussions to a working pilot in the market in 9 months is rapid. And that is not the end of the interesting aspects of this project from a spectators standpoint. This is an innovation that is unique, as there has been no other announcements of Mycelium being used in packaging elsewhere in the market. It has been made to interact with the consumer past the point of purchase, reinforcing Seedlip’s sustainability credentials whilst giving consumers the chance to have a fully compostable package that they can grow their thyme to season their drink with. It is a very neat way to provide an experience that goes beyond simple consumption.
In today’s busy market, especially that for the beverage sector, it is not enough to simply taste good or have an interesting story or proposition. Consumers are highly digitally connected and want to be able to interact with brands through the process of purchase and use and they expect the brand to be there for them too. If they post something positive and there is no acknowledgement they will immediately about face and say the brand does not care. With the speed that these messages can enter the market and circle the globe, it is refreshing to see that brands are not following the more risk averse approach of the behemoths in the market and are willing to deliver refreshing taste, an enhanced experience and solid sustainable credentials all in a gift package that maintains the spirit of the company and its mission. Three cheers to Seedlip for this win win win of a package.