This year pioneering packaging company Woolcool is celebrating a decade at the forefront of innovative packaging solutions, offering efficiency and cost-effectiveness in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. Here, in the first of four blogs, we reveal how the company’s ten years of invention and innovation began.
The success story of Woolcool begins, fittingly, on the farm. In 2002, packaging expert Angela Morris was working with the National Trust, who gave her the task of finding a natural and sustainable chilled packaging solution to help their farmers deliver fresh produce to customers.
Angela had many years packaging experience, covering a variety of different sectors, from major UK retail high street stores such as BHS and Next, global confectionery companies Nestlé and Cadbury’s, to water filtration systems for Fairey Industrial Ceramics and automotive components for Roll-Royce.
As a packaging consultant and advisor to clients, she often became an integral part of their businesses, helping companies to market their products successfully, through the introduction of superior and innovative packaging solutions. In many cases she employed natural materials in her work.
To solve the National Trust’s challenge, Angela would turn again to the natural world – and make a discovery that would shape the rest of her life.
Angela’s eureka moment came when she realised that wool – traditionally associated with keeping things warm – was just as good at keeping things cold. Not only that, wool offered a genuinely sustainable alternative to man-made insulating materials.
Wool, she realised, was nature’s smart fibre; recyclable, reusable and compostable and a superior alternative to the conventional polystyrene and polyethylene foam insulated boxes which are used to transport food.
Angela used her discovery to create a wool insulated box for the National Trust’s farmers and then returned to her work as a packaging consultant. Back to the day job.
But word of mouth began to spread about her innovative new chilled packaging solution. The cooling properties of wool were becoming a hot topic.
Driven by demand, Angela began six years of development: testing, trialling, refining and developing what was to become Woolcool: developing a 100% pure wool liner now scientifically proven to be a viable and superior alternative to conventional, man-made cool packaging.
Behind this development work lay Angela’s belief in the real and urgent global issue of developing packaging that is environmentally and socially responsible yet sustainable and economically effective.
She believed that there was a common misconception that anything to do with protection of the environment meant higher cost and rising prices for the consumer. Through her work with wool, Angela showed that genuinely sustainable – and cost-effective – alternatives did exist in the shape of natural materials.
She would later go on to launch and chair the new Natural Materials Association (NMA).
The ‘Green Agenda’ was by now becoming a major focus globally, while ordering goods via the internet was taking off too. Angela recognised that food industry customers wanted a genuinely environmentally-friendly option for delivering their fresh and frozen perishable foodstuffs direct to the consumer.
By 2009 Angela was ready. The Wool Packaging Company opened for business. The Woolcool brand was born.
It would be the start of ten years of dynamic growth, award recognition and ground-breaking innovation, using the natural benefits of wool to create insulated boxes and cool packaging that would revolutionise the market.
The company’s new products won an immediate, ringing endorsement from Abel & Cole, the UK’s number 1 online organic food retailer, who saw a clear synergy between Woolcool’s sustainable, responsible outlook and their own environmentally-friendly ethos.
A true pioneer of the organic ‘foodie’ world, Abel & Cole have a record of actively supporting innovation from their producers. They saw that both companies not only promoted strong environmental and social responsibility, they shared a commitment to the importance of creating a positive work place for staff and being mindful of the impact businesses have on the wider world.
Abel & Cole also recognised that the Woolcool cool packaging liners were robust enough to be re-used several times – just the ticket for their ecologically-minded customers.
Abel & Cole’s decision to roll out Woolcool as the chilled packaging of choice for delivering their food was a natural decision, and the beginning of a close partnership that continues to this day.
Woolcool’s arrival on the scene was cemented by award recognition from within the industry – the first of many awards throughout their decade-long success story.
First, Woolcool were finalists in the prestigious Green Awards, and then won Best Innovation at the Observer Food Monthly Awards.
In its first year of operation, Woolcool had gone from an ambitious new start-up, fuelled by word of mouth, to an award-winning packaging company in partnership with one of the world’s most respected food retailers. The company was beginning to get a name for cool packaging.
Always looking to innovate, Angela now set Woolcool’s sights on applying its development expertise to a challenging new market that would take the packaging company in an exciting new direction.
The company’s research and development efforts were redirected to the pharma market, with the ambition of creating an environmentally responsible chilled packaging solution that would meet the exacting standards of the pharmaceutical industry.
Through this work the natural properties of wool would once again prove to be superior to man-made materials.
2010 brought more award recognition, as the industry began to fully appreciate the value of Woolcool’s products, from insulated boxes to cool packaging.
The company was recognised by the Observer’s Ethical Awards, and was also named Best Eco-Friendly Product at the Green Business Awards.
Then, at the UK Packaging Awards, Woolcool won the praise of judges in the Supply Chain Solution of the Year category, and was named winner of the Sustainable Pack of the Year too.
In the same year, a new innovation saw the start of another long-standing relationship with a world-famous food brand.
Woolcool introduced a range of insulated pouches to provide an effective and cost-efficient solution for sending chilled items within ambient delivery boxes, hampers, gift boxes or marketing packs.
This new innovation was the ideal fit for iconic London food emporium Fortnum & Mason, who saw the pouches as the natural solution to keep the contents of their world-famous hampers chilled to perfection.
The insulated pouches provided stylish, high-end cool packaging to complement the fine produce included in the hampers.
The pouches also allowed for chilled goods to be sent alongside ambient items, in the same box. This proved to be the perfect solution to open up possibilities in the market, such as in the case of Recipe kits. This innovation meant that companies could send ingredients for fresh, home cooked meals, in small quantities, without the use of unsustainable packaging.
As a result, Woolcool partnered with Gousto – when it was an ambitious start-up – providing recipe kit boxes including ready-measured, fresh ingredients and easily-followed recipes. It was the beginning of a relationship which has gone from strength to strength and still holds firm today.
As 2011 arrived, Woolcool had come a long way from Angela’s original idea: to take a natural fibre to create insulated boxes to help the National Trusts’ farmers deliver fresh food.
That initial moment of inspiration had grown into a business that was breaking new ground, winning awards and partnering with world-famous brands. The packaging company she had founded now offered a range of chilled packaging solutions, from insulated boxes to cool packaging pouches.
But more was to come. The decision to concentrate R&D efforts on the pharma sector was about to open a world of new opportunities.
In 2011 Woolcool won Government funding, from Innovate UK, to begin the development of a wool-based chilled packaging solution for the pharma market.
It would be the beginning of a new chapter for the packaging company, that would bring even more growth, success and innovation – including a new global reach and royal recognition.