NextGen Consortium Partners, investors and other stakeholders convened during Climate Week in New York City for a Demo Day in which six participants in the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator showcased their manufacture-ready prototypes and pitch-ready business plans for growing their sustainable cup solutions.
The Accelerator follows New York-based Closed Loop Partners’ announcement of 12 NextGen Cup Challenge winners in February 2019. Six winning teams entered the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, launched in partnership with global design firm IDEO to help the companies further refine their cup solutions. The diverse solutions include plant-based materials, innovative liners and reusable cup systems that redesign the fiber to-go cup so that it is more widely recoverable or remains in circulation for multiple uses. The six teams participating in the Accelerator are Colombier, CupClub, Footprint, Muuse, RECUP and SoluBlue.
During the program, the companies engaged in in-context prototyping across four distinct Google campus locations, each housing multiple cafes. Progress for each cup solution was measured across four key categories: customer experience, server experience, performance and disposal. Companies were able to see first-hand how customers and servers interacted with their cups in a restaurant-like environment, capturing real-time feedback in a low-risk setting and identifying areas for refinement, Closed Loop Partners says in a news release about the graduates.
Companies also visited material recovery facilities (MRFs) and explored the recovery side of the cup value chain, learning about the systems and infrastructure in place to ensure their solutions were in alignment. Additionally, companies studied the value of materials recovered postprocessing to make the economic case for more circular approaches.
Throughout the Accelerator, companies gained feedback from NextGen Consortium Partners, including founding partners Starbucks and McDonald’s, supporting partners The Coca-Cola Co., Yum! Brands, Nestlé and Wendy's, advisory partner World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and innovation partner IDEO. Feedback included insight into what it would take to roll out their solutions at a large scale.
“We are proud of the NextGen collaboration underway with so many companies championing greener cup technologies,” says John Kelly, senior vice president, global public affairs and social impact at Starbucks. “We applaud Closed Loop Partners’ continued, on-track progress to determine what’s most viable, and we are excited for our own customers to try greener cups in our stores in the near future.”
The companies also were welcomed behind the scenes of a McDonald’s restaurant to better understand how cups work within a store’s layout and staff operations.
Marion Gross, senior vice president and chief supply chain officer, McDonald’s USA, says, “Compatibility with the fast pace of a QSR (quick-service restaurant) setting is critical, and it was great to see Accelerator teams jump at the opportunity to better understand these in-restaurant conditions.”
She adds, “These cup solutions are helping shape the future of packaging, and we want to set them up for success while keeping valuable materials in circulation and, importantly, out of landfills and our oceans.”
“Seeing how far participants in the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator have come is truly rewarding,” says Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “The NextGen Consortium will continue to work with winning teams to ensure that when their solutions do enter market at scale, they’re set up for success and recoverability. “
The other six winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge, which are at later stages in their development, are working with the NextGen Consortium to identify in-market piloting opportunities in regions across the globe. Some participants in the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator also are expected to announce in-store pilots with NextGen Consortium Partners as early as the first quarter of 2020, Closed Loop Partners says.
The Cup Challenge and the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator are just one part of the NextGen Consortium’s efforts to address single-use food packaging waste globally by advancing the design, commercialization and recovery of food packaging alternatives. The consortium also is focused on infrastructure and consumer engagement, supported by stakeholder collaboration across the value chain.
“Watching the aggregation of innovative ideas turn into real progress has been exciting to watch,” says Erin Simon, director, sustainability R&D, WWF. “Now we’ll look to the members of the NextGen Consortium to take these solutions into the marketplace and watch real change happen.”