Knook #8: Milton Innovations
Jason Wood’s LinkedIn profile has him listed as a ‘lid enthusiast’. The entrepreneur and co-founder of Milton Innovations has every right to do so, as his company seeks to provide a solution for excessive packaging and to minimise the environmental damage of disposable lids.
Milton Innovations make the most functional and environmentally conscious disposable, straw-less lids in the food service market. Their flagship product - the Pop Top - is looking to turn the tide on an era of harm, and is launching early next year.
Jason has been back and forth to the East Coast and Midwest of the United States, to be closest to the huge disposable lid market there. It's estimated that upwards of 120 billion disposable cups of both hot and cold beverages are being thrown away in the USA every year, and with them, 120 billion lids. While the cups themselves may be paper, they are typically plastic-lined and the lids are generally plastic too - as is well known, this is difficult to be recycled or break down naturally.
I asked Jason how they got started.
“A number of years ago, as the issue of packaging pollution was beginning to gain traction in New Zealand, Sam Horgan and I saw an opportunity to overcome our shared dislike in drinking from to-go coffee lids. At the same time, we realised we could create a new product sub-category to address the growing concerns around pollution.
"We sought a solution which was functional to use and sustainable to make and dispose of, and the Pop Top concept has been the result of that work.
“When we began, we were very much focused on challenging the status-quo of what a beverage lid was. Once we learnt more about the production requirements for the mass-consumer market, and have seen the increase in consumer demand for sustainable alternatives, we have in-turn ensured our product aligns with these parameters.
I asked Jason what their biggest mistake has been in the process of commercialising, and what they’ve learnt from it.
“We’ve learnt some pretty tough lessons over the past 3 years - one lesson I often reflect on, and evaluate against, is the amount of reliance we had put on one process of manufacturing.
“Bringing a new, innovative product, we were reliant on manufacturers to alter their existing production lines to make our product. It’s obviously a big ask, especially knowing these lines are commonly worth tens-of-millions of dollars, and a heck of a lot of engineering brain power.
“Going back to the drawing board wasn’t as much as a compromise as it was a realisation that to move forward, we had to make some fundamental changes to the product to ensure we were a feasible product solution to the market.”
It's been a journey to get to this point - especially given the challenges around manufacturing. But Jason says he wouldn’t do anything differently.
“We’ve certainly learnt some tough lessons along the way, but I couldn’t be prouder of how we managed to get through them. Everything we’ve learnt has gone into shaping who we are, and what our products do.”
Smithers Pira, a worldwide authority on the packaging industry, is predicting that the global packaging industry will have a market value of USD $998 billion by 2020, with 3.5% year-on-year growth - there’s no doubt that the industry is huge. But where is it heading?
“The packaging industry is hugely consumer driven. Brands all around the world are proposing their answers in how to become more sustainable and environmentally conscious,” says Jason.
“I think there will be greater expenditure in R&D of new products and materials due to the growing expectation from consumers that businesses think about the whole-of-life cycle of their products.”
I asked Jason what advice he’d give to an aspiring entrepreneur or small business owner.
“I’ve kept a notebook since the day Sam and I first started speaking of the lid - making a conscious note about your aspirations everyday has been a great way for me to stay focused on the future, and also a tool to remind me of the progress we make.”
I asked Jason what Milton Innovations' plans for the future are.
“Oh look, we've got our eyes set globally. Our short term plan is to continue in growing our North American supply chain. We’ve been able to align ourselves with some fantastic partners, and we’re excited to see how tomorrow’s consumers evolve, and how we may be able to meet their needs too!”
Though still early in their commercialisation journey, Milton Innovations is one to watch. No doubt I will check back in with Jason in the future to hear about the lessons he's learnt through that process.
For more on Milton Innovations, visit: https://www.miltoninnovations.com/.