Made in New England: Meet Sarah Kaeck of Bee’s Wrap
Eco-conscious consumers are making an effort to reduce waste—from using reusable bags at the supermarket to dabbling in backyard composting. But what about food storage?
With plastic wrap as the go-to for most families, Vermonter Sarah Kaeck was frustrated when she couldn’t find a better alternative to keep her homemade bread fresh. It didn’t take long until she came up with a winning formula—with beeswax as a star ingredient—to create a washable, reusable and compostable alternative to plastic wrap.
Handmade in Vermont, Bee’s Wrap is on a mission to change the world of food storage, believing that “good food deserves good care.” We got to chat with Founder Sarah to discuss how they’re scaling the business 100 percent in-house, what they’re doing to give back—both locally and globally—and the importance of creating a tight-knit work family (with zero-waste Wednesday lunches).
R.K.: How did you get the idea to start Bee’s Wrap and take it from idea to business?
S.K.: Bee’s Wrap grew out of a need in my own family to store our food in a sustainable way. My family and I were making and growing a lot of our own food at our home in Vermont, and I was struggling to come up with a good way to store bread in particular that would keep my loaves fresh. I came across the idea of waxing fabric with beeswax, resin and jojoba oil, and began experimenting at home until I’d found a formula that worked for us.
I wanted to create something that made it easier for my family, and others, to reduce waste and cut down on single-use plastics. I started sharing what I was making at home with friends and family, and quickly realized that my family wasn’t alone in needing Bee’s Wrap. From there, the idea bloomed into a business relatively quickly.
In the beginning it was just me, but soon I brought on some friends and neighbors. One friend was a farmer who had extra time in the winter. Another was the mother of one of my children’s friends. Bee’s Wrap was growing by word-of-mouth at that point, and by the end of the first year, there were eight of us making the wraps—most of us mothers, working around our kids’ schedules.
R.K.: Through Bee’s Wrap, you’ve created a more sustainable alternative to food storage, without using plastic. Can you speak to me about your production process?
S.K.: We outgrew my home pretty quickly, and started producing our wraps in Bristol, Vermont. We’ve since outgrown that facility, too. Now our production facility is located in Middlebury, Vermont, and we have about three dozen employees. We’ve designed our own custom machinery that allows us to wax whole rolls of fabric at a time, a change that allowed us to scale the business.
Something really special about Bee’s Wrap is that we control every part of the process, from sourcing our raw materials to manufacturing our wraps in house to fulfilling orders and handling national and international marketing. We like having this level of control, because it lets us be really thoughtful about every step of the process—thinking about what kind of materials to use (like organic, GOTS-certified cotton and sustainably sourced beeswax), how to package our wraps (in fully recycled and totally plastic-free packaging) and what kind of company we want to be.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a family-friendly workplace, and to build schedules that allow team members to pick up kids or be home with a sick child or parent. We offer a variety of benefits that allow employees to give back to our community like paid volunteer time and paid time to vote.
We take a lot of pride in what we do, and in the support we give each other at work at in our personal lives. We provide a zero-waste lunch every Wednesday, and a community meal once a month to celebrate birthdays. We’ve created teams to improve the way we do business and the way we support our internal culture, focusing on giving, wellness and sustainability. Because we’re growing so quickly, we have to be collaborative and creative. The result is a really close-knit team.
R.K.: Which Bee’s Wrap product is the most versatile go-to—that you’d recommend for everyone to have in their kitchen?
S.K.: This is a tough question to answer, as Bee’s Wrap is by nature very versatile, and preferences can be pretty personal. For instance, some people are devoted sandwich wrap users, packing their lunch with Bee’s Wrap every day. Others might love our small wraps because they always seem to have a half an avocado or half a lemon in their refrigerator.
Our Assorted Three-Packs are a great place to start, because these include three wraps in three different sizes: small, medium and large. It’s a wonderful introduction to Bee’s Wrap, and a way to experiment to see which sizes might get the most use in your own kitchen.
R.K.: What did you have to learn the hard way in launching your business? Any particular challenges along the way? Or something that surprised you?
S.K.: We’ve been in business for almost seven years, and every year has brought a lot of growth and change, which is a sort of ever evolving challenge. Because we do everything in house, we’re juggling all of these different challenges and priorities, all the time. Different departments grow and evolve in different ways. We’re constantly troubleshooting across all of these different departments, while trying to make sure we retain some unity as we grow and change.
We’re in a period of intense growth at Bee’s Wrap. We grew 87 percent in 2018. As a culture, we romanticize high-growth businesses and start-ups, and there’s a lot about our work that’s really invigorating and inspiring and exciting. There’s also a lot that’s stressful and exhausting.
R.K.: Giving back to the community and environment is important to your brand. Can you tell me about your mission to support the bees, end plastic pollution and give back locally?
S.K.: Giving back has always been a part of our mission at Bee’s Wrap, and we’ve formalized that mission in the last few years by identifying the areas where we want to focus our efforts. As you’ve mentioned, those including supporting a healthy bee population, fighting to end plastic pollution and supporting our local community.
It’s not just a pretty slogan when we say that we believe business can be a force for good in the world, and we’ve been grateful to partner with some incredible nonprofits. We’ve teamed up with The Bee Cause, an organization that places observational bee hives in schools, to sponsor three hives in the greater New England area. This year we also partnered with 5 Gyres to support their work on plastic pollution.
R.K.: You’re based in Vermont, which is where you launched the company. Do you think there’s been a benefit to starting your business in the New England area that you don’t think you’d get elsewhere?
S.K.: Vermont is where my family and I have chosen to make our home, and it means a lot to me to be building a business that supports the local community and provides meaningful employment, a livable wage, job training and opportunities within the company as our employees grow with us.
Broadly speaking, Vermont is a wonderful place to live and work. I’ve also found a community here of fellow entrepreneurs who’ve served as mentors and friends as Bee’s Wrap has grown. Furthermore, the state is invested in helping small businesses grow, through grants, loans and access to international markets.
R.K.: What other local brands are you a fan of—either in Vermont or New England in general?
S.K.: We’ve got some amazing neighbors right here in Middlebury: We use Vermont Soap both at home and at Bee’s Wrap, and we all love AquaVitea Kombucha. We’re also a part of a larger community of B Corps, and several B Corp businesses have been integral in my daily life for years. Badger Balm is one of my go-tos, Cabot Cheese is a staple in my kitchen, and I reach for King Arthur Flour every time I bake bread.
R.K.: What changes do you hope to see in our country when it comes to people adapting a more sustainable lifestyle?
S.K.: I think change needs to come both from individuals and from corporations and government. It’s important for each of us to take responsibility for the ways our choices and our purchasing dollars affect our communities and our planet. But real and lasting change will come when businesses, industry and government embrace an ethic that values people and planet as highly as profit.
R.K.: Where do you hope to see your brand in the next two years?
S.K.: Our focus for the coming years is on continuing to scale the business, and educating more consumers about Bee’s Wrap. We know we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consumers who are interested in a plastic-free, planet-friendly alternative to food storage. Reaching these customers, and teaching them about Bee’s Wrap, is the big focus. But we also have some really fun projects on the horizon, including designing new prints and new products.
We’re also continuing to deepen our partnerships with nonprofits, and think more proactively about our giving. We’re embracing ways to be more active politically around issues on the environment, climate change and plastic pollution as well.
R.K.: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business from scratch?
S.K.: My biggest piece of advice is to invest the time early on to embed sustainability and best practices in your business from the very beginning. Find people and create partnerships whose values align with yours. Seek out the best ingredients, products and tools. Build with high standards from the beginning, so you can stand behind your business from a social, environmental and product standpoint with confidence.
R.K.: At WELL, we believe wellness comes in all forms. What does wellness look like for you?
S.K.: For me, wellness means striving for balance. I try to carve out time for walking and yoga, because even though it means time away from family and work, it’s what powers me to bring the best version of myself to both of those roles.
I also really prioritize being present as the most important thing. That means that when I’m with my kids, I work very hard to keep work pushed to the side. When I’m at work, I give it my all. And then, finally, I try to extend that same grace to myself, allowing myself time to recharge.
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