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 third of four blogs, we reveal how the company continued its impressive expansion – aided by in-house research and development, investment and collaboration with leading scientists.
As 2013 arrived, Woolcool was on the cusp of a new chapter in the company’s development. The firm had invested in their first Climatic Chamber, a cutting-edge piece of technology that would allow in-house testing of their chilled packaging products, fine-tuning their performance and providing detailed, evidence-based data to customers.
It was all a long way from Angela Morris’s original ‘eureka’ moment working with a National Trust farm to create insulated boxes. Her belief in the value of natural materials – and specifically the properties of wool – had been confirmed by years of tests and trials, but the addition of the Climatic Chamber would be a game changer for Woolcool.
It was the latest commitment to research that allowed analysis on two fronts – alongside the many collaborations with Government agencies and academics in universities, Woolcool would now constantly carry out their own in-depth research in-house, gathering constant proof of the superiority of natural materials, and allowing them to provide bespoke information sets for clients.
This commitment to hard-proven evidential data would be critical to the packaging company’s ambition to expand their chilled packaging products further into the demanding pharmaceutical and medical sectors, where lives can depend on the accuracy and dependability of information.
That dependability had already made Woolcool perhaps the most talked-about packaging company in the food sector. Its range of temperature-controlled packaging solutions such as insulated boxes had already created loyal partnerships with household names like John Lewis, Abel & Cole and high-end retailer Fortnum & Mason.
2013 brought another major landmark, as Woolcool’s pharmaceutical innovation saw them supply packaging to perhaps best-loved and most cherished public sector body – the National Health Service.
Winning the confidence of NHS experts was a clear indication that Woolcool’s products could surpass the high benchmarks set for delivering pharma solutions. The investment was paying off.
Soon after, the firm added a second Climatic Chamber creating even more capacity for testing and providing more data – and peace of mind – for clients. The chambers allow Woolcool technicians to subject the company’s chilled packaging products to all kinds of climactic extremes in a controlled environment, which means customers can see just how much wool-insulated packaging can withstand while protecting the temperature-controlled contents inside.
Behind all this high-tech innovation lay the simple truth that pure wool provides better insulation properties than man-made equivalents such as polystyrene, as well as being lighter, biodegradable, abundant, recyclable and re-usable.
The Woolcool story was becoming the perfect mix of natural and technical, taking a fibre created and developed over millennia by Mother Nature, and using mankind’s scientific ingenuity to prove and improve its performance.
That fundamental belief in wool’s properties was recognised when the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining – otherwise known as IOM3 – reached out to Woolcool founder Angela.
IOM3 is a UK engineering institution whose activities encompass the whole materials cycle, from exploration and extraction, through characterisation, processing, forming, finishing and application, to product recycling and land reuse.
They saw that Woolcool was a packaging company at the forefront of a new appetite for natural materials – and asked Angela if she would help found the new Natural Materials Association, or NMA, becoming its first chair.
The NMA was the first UK body to represent the breadth of natural materials available to industry. Under Angela’s guidance, the Association has become a key platform for the exchange of knowledge between materials scientists, product designers and educators about not only wool but stone, clay, wood, leather, hemp, shell and biomimicry.
The year closed with further recognition of Woolcool’s commitment to scientific data, when Innovate UK, the Government’s development agency, confirmed another round of funding for research by the firm into how wool-insulated chilled packaging products could benefit the pharma sector.
This Government-backing would allow Woolcool to take the product range of insulated boxes, pouches and envelopesit had successfully created for the food sector and adapt it to the demands of pharmaceutical clients.
2014 brought a bright new look for Woolcool, and a new website too. This new branding, designed by VERSO Creative, would provide a flexible visual interpretation of the firm’s ecological ethos that would evolve and change with its products, while the website opened a digital doorway for clients from across the globe to discover Woolcool’s innovative uses for natural materials.
In the background, throughout 2014 Innovate UK funding had enabled significant research and development into the possibilities within the pharma packaging market. The results were so persuasive that a second round of competitive Government funding was successfully applied for and which helped to produce market-ready industrial prototypes. Once again, commitment to trialling, testing and data research was proving its worth for the packaging company.
In 2015, that commitment moved to another new level, when Woolcool collaborated with one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions to delve further into the potential of the pharma market. This link-up with Cambridge University would add significantly to the scientific understanding of the capability of wool, and further strengthen the case for the use of natural materials by industry.
Over the years, all of this research has built a formidable data set that lays out the other incredible properties of wool, on top of its benefits as an insulator. As well as being strong and lightweight, it absorbs 40 per cent of its own weight in moisture without feeling wet, absorbs and locks in toxins, wool lanolin has inherent antibacterial properties and the fibre locks carbon out of the atmosphere. In ecological terms, it biodegrades quickly and breaks down in sea water.
With this data behind it, as well as the benefits of bespoke trialling within its two Climactic Chambers, Woolcool’s insulated chilled packaging was becoming a hot topic in the pharma sector, while it continued to build on its loyal base of food industry clients.
This growth led to another landmark for the company in 2015, when its first UK manufacturing facility was established in Staffordshire. Here, thousands insulated boxes, envelopes and pouches are created to bespoke designs every day.
In the space of just a few years, a commitment to scientific research had taken Angela’s pioneering idea and created a flourishing packaging company, that was partnering with the world’s top academics and winning Government backing.
As 2016 began, that innovation was recognised by the Sentinel Business Awards, one of the biggest events of its kind in the UK, when Woolcool picked up the Science and Technology Award. It was the latest of many awards to grace their trophy cabinet – and as Woolcool headed towards the end of their first ten years in business, they could look forward to many, many more accolades.