Problems with plastic waste reach the media almost every day. We are continually being confronted with it even in our own environment. Governments all over the world are trying to tackle this problem with regulatory bans, such as those on plastic bags and straws. Sandra Palazzolo and Kristina Immerz, two young women from the German region of Allgäu, have been working on a solution to the plastic problem since 2017. They are producing beeswax wrappers and cling foil at their start-up Wabenwerk (honeycomb). The products are not just for sale in the region Allgäu itself, but also in Austria and Switzerland and online via their own website. Now Wabenwerk has expanded its product line. The two founders are even playing with the idea of opening a shop in Kaufbeuren where they only sell unpackaged goods.
Innovation Origins spoke with co-founder Sandra Palazzolo about Wabenwerk and its plans for their launch on the market.
How did you come up with the idea for the start-up?
Kristina and I are sisters-in-law. Even before Wabenwerk was set up, we had always made natural foils and we were busy being creative. One day Kristina read an article about beeswax in an organic magazine. We immediately became enthusiastic. ‘What a worthwhile and sustainable product!’ we thought, as well as easy for us to make ourselves.
The first beeswax foils were meant as a Christmas present. We worked so hard on the product and on the waxing technique and composition of the beeswax mixture, that they eventually became Mother’s Day gifts.
Of course our friends also got beeswax foils, which proved to be very popular. A friend insisted on designing packaging for us. Another friend invited us to her craft market as exhibitors. We sold out at this market after just a few hours. We also received invitations to other markets and retailers were interested. That was the birth of ‘Wabenwerk Natural Foils.’
What makes Wabenwerk or your products so special compared to your competitors and what problems does it solve?
Beeswax manufacturers don’t see each other so much as direct competitors. At least that’s what experience has taught us over the years. We are all driven by issues ranging from pollution to microplastics to bee mortality. We are able to tackle all these problems through our work. This quickly creates a sense of community and an exchange of ideas. At first we could hardly believe it when we saw in black and white how much aluminium and cling foil you could actually avoid with every sheet you sold!
What has been biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
Our biggest obstacle was the EU legislation concerning the Food and Consumer Product Safety Act. We received a phone call from the city council who alerted us to the compulsory guidelines. According to this, we have to remind consumers to pack food directly in our foil. Aside from the financial burden, it was not easy finding a laboratory where the requisite tests could be carried out on natural products such as beeswax. For the time being, we have decided not to advertise the foils for food packaging. This brought us a few sleepless nights. We questioned whether it was really worth doing all the work. In hindsight, it was just a minor setback. But this obstacle seemed insurmountable to us at the time.
And vice versa: what are you particularly proud of?
We’re very proud when we’re at a market and meet customers from last year who enthusiastically tell us how often they use our beeswax foil and how much plastic they’ve managed to avoid this way. We’re also seeing more and more children and teenagers at these markets who pack their snacks in beeswax foil and proudly tell us that. Which always feels very special to us.
What motivates you to go to work every morning?
There are many reasons to do that. The enthusiasm of our customers and retailers. The varied work that goes into production. The fact that we can realize our ideas and of course the continued success of our company. However, the main motivation is our team and the atmosphere in our workshop. Our work is a lot of fun for all of us and we make a sound and sensible product. What more could you ask for?
What can we expect from Wabenwerk in the coming years?
We are planning a pure organic line, a vegan line and a do-it-yourself set for the new year. Above all, we want to offer companies, hotels and organizations the opportunity to have personalized beeswax foils designed for them. With their own logo, as promotional gifts or business gifts or Christmas presents. We have already started on that this year. We look forward to being able to do even more along these lines in the future.
What is your vision for Wabenwerk? Where do you see yourself in five or ten years’ time?
Our vision is to keep working on Wabenwerk with the same commitment, to build a worthwhile and sustainable company and to be proud of it. We are constantly trying to evolve and to do something good for our customers and our environment.