Households around the globe are ditching single-use plastic to package their sandwiches and snacks, opting for an eco-friendly food wrap made right here in Hawke’s Bay.
LilyBee Wrap produces more than 196,000 wraps each year at its Onekawa factory, saving 20 million metres of plastic destined for landfill.
Like many small businesses, LilyBee started life on a kitchen table, the idea forming out of owner Stacia Jensen’s desire to create a sustainable eco-wrap that was both functional and beautiful. The wraps, made from locally-sourced beeswax, natural organic cotton, organic coconut oil and gum tree resin, now adorn sandwiches and cover fridge fixings in countries including Australia, the US, Japan, Canada and the UK.
Not bad for a self-described ‘accidental entrepreneur’ and former yoga teacher who started the business in 2015 with only a stall at the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market.
“I had always wondered what people did before the invention of plastic, which has had a hugely detrimental affect on our planet. I began playing around with ideas and came up with a plastic wrap alternative. I had also just fallen pregnant at the time, so it was even more important for me to do something that would benefit future generations.”
Stacia, a Portland native says her “American sensibility” underpinned her approach when considering developing a new eco-product.
“Americans want things to work well and be done well. Eco-products traditionally have been expensive and often underperform. My ethos is that the product must work as well if not better than a ‘regular’ one. It also needed be fun and benefit people’s lives, as well as our planet’s. It’s that approach that has seen our business flourish.”
Stacia is quick to point out that her life is not eco-perfect, but that gives authenticity to the LilyBee brand.
“Because of the way we’ve positioned ourselves, we’re not seen as preachy. I have a three-year old so still have some plastic in our house. But we’re making small changes all the time. If you give people an accessible way to change, they will do it. Even if that means using beeswax wraps for your food or taking out half a bag of rubbish less a week. Small steps can lead to big changes and LilyBee is a living example of that.”
Pre-Covid, two-thirds of LilyBee’s business was export-led, but that has now reduced, with Stacia focused on domestic sales for the foreseeable future. Far from being discouraged, Stacia and her two other shareholders see this change in focus as an opportunity.
“We’re totally ok with the situation actually. It’s a very different business model when you export – the margins are slim so we’re not convinced it was the right thing anyway. Luckily we have a really supportive domestic customer base and while we’re still a small business, we’ve grown in leaps and bounds. We’re doing a lot of soul searching and are in no rush to get back to the US, which was one of our biggest export markets.”
Stacia says every business decision the team makes is considered under both a financial and wellness lens. Wellness is a thread that weaves through any conversation with Stacia and during the Level 4 lockdown, wellness was a high priority.
“It was a challenging time for everyone and people needed to do things to heal themselves. Some of our 20 staff worked remotely, others worked longer hours. I operate a high trust model with my employees and trusted everyone to make decisions about working during lockdown that were right for them.
“I know how much work we get out of people and we try to balance that with wellness. I’ve seen that pay off over and over again. Wellness – whatever that looks like – leads to enjoyment, commitment, meaning and purpose in people’s lives. It’s not a purely transactional relationship. But it still needs to be balanced with financial reality, which sometimes means making tough decisions.”
It is this approach that saw LilyBee recently awarded B-Corp certification, a global accreditation that certifies companies based on how they create value for non-shareholding stakeholders such as their employees, the local community and the environment. In the current ‘greenwash revolution’ – where everyone wants to be seen as green and good – B-Corporations celebrate social enterprises that use business “as a force for good”, giving consumers a steer on businesses that are socially and environmentally responsible.
LilyBee joins 3,500 other B-Corp companies in 74 countries. Globally the movement is acknowledged as a key driver in the global shift to redefine success in business, away from strictly numbers on a balance sheet. Stacia says she always knew she wanted to pursue becoming a B-Corporation.
“B-Corp is very prominent in the US and a lot of businesses I admire are certified. Our business was already aligned with a lot of what B-Corp is about so a massive shift wasn’t needed. It’s a rigorous standard and as soon as your business doesn’t align with the values of B-Corp, you have to reapply for certification.
“B-Corp helped us solidify our thinking; commit it to paper. It’s about being accountable and not just paying lip service to words like ‘sustainability’ or ‘social enterprise’.”
B-Corporations are also legally obliged to consider the impact of their business decisions and incorporate them into constitutions, and there is an expectation any business will continue to evolve. For Stacia, this is crucial in keeping her accountable.
“More than anything, B-Corp is about evolution. So much of what we already do shares B-Corp’s ethos and practices, but we know we can do more. It’s a natural extension of what we do and who we are.”
Currently Stacia is looking at restructuring the business and exploring how it can become more employee-owned.
“People are at the heart of our company and we believe those who put in the work should receive the benefit. It’s about balancing money with purpose and wellness. When you realise that an extra $50 a week will make a huge difference to someone you work beside every day, it motivates you and it’s humbling. Sometimes balancing the books is not easy and we don’t always get it right, but we’re always trying. Wellness and balance anchor our decision making throughout every aspect of the business.”
Future expansion and diversification plans for LilyBee are also in the ‘mapping’ phase.
“We’re playing around with ideas and anything we add to the range will be produced under the B-Corp lens now. This is us.”