Singapore-based packaging start-up AlterPacks has recently raised US$1 million in pre-seed funding, and it plans to use the fund to commercialise and expand its operations and presence in Asia and Europe.
The company aims to combat plastic packaging by offering solutions made using food waste such as malt and barley. It converts this food waste into takeaway boxes and other containers. AlterPacks’ containers have already received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) certification for direct food contact.
In December 2022, AlterPacks packaging products became commercially available.
AlterPacks uses automated machines to manufacture containers at scale by cleaning raw materials, mixing their formulation and pressing them into container shapes.
AFBR has the opportunity to interview Karen Cheah, Founder and CEO of AlterPacks to gain further insights on the company plans and its packaging application in food and beverage products and in meeting sustainability target. The following are excerpts of the interview with her:
1. How and when was AlterPacks founded and the reason for its establishment ?
AlterPacks was founded in 2019. The genesis of Alterpacks lies in garbage. In my travels, I had witnessed whole communities choking under the weight of their waste, made up of plastic containers and food waste. So, the mission of AlterPacks was to use what was being thrown out to create food containers that would be a replacement to plastic disposables. And the vision of AlterPacks is to “throw out this throw-away culture that has become ubiquitous with plastics.”
2. Tell us more about your packaging solutions and its benefits to the F&B industry in general ?
AlterPacks creates food containers made from 100% organic waste. In terms of performance, AlterPacks containers are able to go from freezer to microwave, hold wet and oily foods and keep their shape and form. With sufficient volume, we aim to get the price of the containers to compete with plastics. This addresses 2 main areas of concern in F&B packaging – price and performance. The challenge of finding a suitable replacement for plastics with an eco-friendly alternative that has both the price and performance advantage and mass take-up is what AlterPacks can offer.
Our first products were bento boxes in response to market research findings and feedback from potential distributors that showed a strong demand for this packaging. We started piloting the bento boxes with Singapore peranakan chefs and Indonesian nasi padang cuisine that required a container that did not leak or lose shape. The second product was the double decker food container which we piloted in Vietnam – allowing for an internal tray within the container. This addressed the requirement of being able to separate gravy from the mains and then be mixed when required, such as pasta and sauces, noodles and gravy or soup. Our new product lines include coffee cups and coffee lids, and all these are sparked by the demand from F&B clients that want a better alternative to what’s currently available in the market, while at the same time support these companies’ sustainability goals.
AlterPacks packaging is suitable for food services establishments, and can also be considered for the F&B manufacturing sector particularly for fresh products like its tray which can be used to place mangoes for exports as an example.
3. Sustainable packaging (Zero Waste) is an up and coming trend – how can your innovations help to protect and preserve the environment ?
The raw material AlterPacks uses is disposed grains like malt and barley. We divert the grains from being disposed in landfills, or made into compost or animal feed to a higher value product that can go back into the supply chain as a product of value. Our material is also made up of 100% organic waste. As our material is also home compostable, AlterPacks products become the go-to alternative in countries that have already started looking at banning the use of virgin pulp and plastic coatings in paper products as well.
4. What is AlterPacks future plan for its business relating to the F&B industry ?
AlterPacks is a new materials company with technology at its core. We started with creating containers by processing spent grains. This is just the beginning. We are also creating bio-pellets made from the spent grains to replace petroleum based resins that may be used in standard manufacturing machines creating containers. In the mid-term, we are expanding our range of agricultural waste and products. Our long-term goal is to provide other forms of material created from disposed waste as a raw material that other companies can use to form their own packaging and products.
5. Talking about ‘Zero Waste’, how far are we from achieving this goal especially in this region ?
The technology to provide a near zero waste solution is already available e.g. AlterPacks products are made from side-streams from food manufacturing and are home compostable. The path to ubiquitous adoption depends on:
1) The rate at which adoption is legislated;
2) The rate at which the existing production and distribution ecosystem can be adapted for zero waste solutions.
Longer term, it is our (consumers’ and industries’) willingness to shift from a linear to circular economy lifestyle and business model that will determine whether we can achieve Zero Waste, and secure the future of our planet.