Creating a Truly Recyclable Pizza Box with GreenBox NY’s Jennifer Wright

April 28, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. We’re so excited to have with us today Jennifer Wright. She’s the President of GreenBox NY. Jennifer, welcome to Green is Good. JENNIFER WRIGHT: Thank you so much JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, this is the second time GreenBox has been on Green is Good but this is the first time you’re making an appearance so we’re so honored to have you on today and before we get talking about GreenBox New York and all the great things you’re doing, I want you to first share the Jennifer Wright story, the Jennifer Wright journey leading up to the founding of GreenBox. Share your story with our listeners today please. JENNIFER WRIGHT: Oh sure. Well, I actually was in finance for about ten years and in 2007 when the markets started to turn, I started to look for other opportunities out there and went back to MBA school and I actually decided to pursue opportunities there so at the time, I was friends with Will Walsh and he had just patented a wonderful product called the GreenBox Pizza Box and we decided to enter that into business competitions and various other events at my school, Columbia and we did very well. There was tremendous interest in the product and we ended up getting initial seed funding through a venture capital arm of Columbia University. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow so what year was GreenBox and your Eco Incorporated founded? JENNIFER WRIGHT: We founded it I guess in 2008 is when we sort of started to informally start the company and in 2009 when I finished schools and I had two business partners, we all basically finished our respective jobs and I finished school and we decided to take a run at it and raise some capital. We did that in 2009 and in 2010 we officially started the company so we’ve been up and running for the last four years approximately. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s tell the listeners. I’m on your website right now and for our listeners that want to follow along on their iPad or mobile device or their laptops or desktops, it’s www.greenboxny.com. I’m on your website. It’s beautiful. Share with our listeners what you’re doing at GreenBox and the Eco line of products. JENNIFER WRIGHT: Sure, our flagship product is the GreenBox Pizza Box that I mentioned. It is a multifunctional box that’s made from 100% recycled material. The multifunctional aspect comes from two different areas; the first is that the top of the box breaks off and tears into plates, and the bottom of the box turns into a storage container that you can fit in your fridge so there’s a lot of convenience out of that but there’s also a lot of environmental savings. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great and so that’s your main product and you launched that and how’s it going in terms of pizzerias here in New York and across the nation, how is your GreenBox going? JENNIFER WRIGHT: It’s been great. I guess when we spoke to you about four years ago or so, we just tilled up at one plant in the country. We now manufacture out of eight different plants. We also manufacture for the Central American market down in El Salvador and Costa Rica and we just signed an agreement with a company in Australia to start manufacturing there for the Australian market so we’ve really grown and in addition to our flagship GreenBox Pizza Box, we’ve added additional products. We now have a Slice Box and similar products that pizzerias would use, like slice boxes and sleeves for wraps and hoagie boxes and everything else so we’ve managed to expand our product line along the way along with growing the actual flagship product, which is really exciting. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. Obviously, there’s the obvious stuff, it’s a recyclable box, but what are the other ways that your GreenBox line helps the environment? JENNIFER WRIGHT: Just looking at the actual GreenBox Pizza Box, the very fact that we can tear off the top of the box and turn it into plates, all around the country, pizzerias are handing out plates along with their pizza boxes because pizza is an on-the-go type of food so people are not always going home and taking plates out of their cupboards to use so we’re minimizing the usage of additional paper plates, often which are plastic or Styrofoam or even additional paper. In addition to that, the storage container. A lot of people, when they have leftovers, will use aluminum foil or plastic wrap for leftover slices and being able to reuse the box again enables us to save on those auxiliary items so it’s great and it’s interesting. We’ve had a lot of calls from public works departments and pizzerias that are near beaches and parks because there’s a problem with pizza boxes in that they never fit in the outdoor trash cans and they end up on the street so the very fact that the box is perforated and can be broken down does help with additional pollution problems. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When you were starting this I remember when Will, who unfortunately, for our listeners out there, was just the most delightful guest, has passed since, but I remember Will telling me all about you, Jennifer, and I remember when you were just trying to get the word out. Talk a little bit about some of the early success that you had in socializing this product to the mainstream world and getting the word out. What happened and how’d you do that? JENNIFER WRIGHT: Sure. I guess it was 2009. I didn’t really understand what Twitter was all about. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Who did? JENNIFER WRIGHT: I did in the sense that I was learning as I went and I didn’t even quite understand but I thought, ‘well if I tweet out to a celebrity, like Ashton Kutcher, who was such a big Twitter champion at the time, what happens? So I just sent a link, kind of naively, to him to a demo video of our GreenBox Pizza Box and he just wrote back the word, ‘smart’ and shared our link I guess with his Twitter followers and I didn’t quite understand what that meant. I didn’t know if it was a big deal or not because it happened so quickly but a day later, we had 100,000 hits on our video and then before we knew it, we had half-a-million and now we have 2 million hits on our demo video and so that created a lot of initial interest in the product but I think the interest really came from the fact that it’s such a brilliant simple idea that he came up with and people get it right away and understand all of the problems around a bulky cumbersome pizza box so that’s why they keep sharing it over and over in blogs or Facebook and everything else. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re humble about the Ashton Kutcher tweet because social media for that kind of social good, and he really does get it and he does do a lot of investing in the space and the fact that he then tweeted about something that was so substantive and so real and as you say, brilliant, new take, a better mousetrap, that’s a powerful combination then if it’s celebrity social media and a real world take on an old world product, that was a recipe for massive success, huh? JENNIFER WRIGHT: Yeah and even to this day, four years later, we still have interest in the product. Two weeks ago, Rachel Ray demonstrated it on her TV show and it was on another show called The Two on ABC, where the host demonstrated it so it just speaks to the fact that it’s something that people want to see out there in the market. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there who just joined us, we’re on with Jennifer Wright. She’s the President of GreenBox New York. You can check them out at www.greenboxny.com. Jennifer, so here you are now, five six years later into this whole – besides Columbia, then the launch of it in 2010- you’ve got eight manufacturing facilities. You’re in South America. You’re going to Australia. How are you distributing GreenBox? Is GreenBox being distributed on a caller-by-caller basis? Do you have the big distribution companies selling it for you? And have any of the big chains stepped up yet and raised their hand and said, ‘We’re ready to make a move and do something really big and be first,’ and have joined on the GreenBox revolution yet? JENNIFER WRIGHT: To answer the first part of your question, we distribute through distributors so we’re not the ones that are actually distributing the product to the pizzerias. We’re distributing in large quantities to a distributor that can get it out more efficiently maybe two to three times a week so that makes things much easier for us. We’re working with a lot of the big national distributors. Our first and most widespread partner is Performance Food Group. It’s Roma Foods’ Performance Food Group. They have a very big Italian food service arm and they’ve been amazingly supportive of the product. Actually we’re going out to a pizza expo, if you can believe that there’s a pizza expo, in Vegas at the end of the month with the product. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Sounds like fun. JENNIFER WRIGHT: It is. We eat a lot of pizza while we’re there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Vegas Pizza Expo, that sounds like a good time actually. JENNIFER WRIGHT: It’s a good combination. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Exactly. JENNIFER WRIGHT: So we distribute through a number of different regional distributors. It really depends on who we’re selling to and it’s really driven by our customers. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Will you actually have a booth at the expo? JENNIFER WRIGHT: We will be at the Performance Food Group Roma Foods booth actually. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. Do you go on sales calls yourself? Do you go and knock on the door of the CEO of Domino’s or Papa John’s or any of that stuff yourself? JENNIFER WRIGHT: Yes, we do. We try and get out and meet people face-to-face as much as possible but a lot of it is really from our office from an efficiency point of view. To answer your question about the big four pizza chains, there’s been interest but really the best way to characterize it is it’s hard to break through to the top levels of management and we haven’t been able to get their attention yet but having said that, we have many big chains, 100 plus store chains, 40 store chains, 80 store chains, that are already using the box so I think we’re starting sort of at the grassroots level with independents to large chains and maybe at some point, one of the big chains will get it and realize what an amazing product it is for their customers. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What pizzeria was the first to adopt it in Manhattan, in New York City, in your hometown here? JENNIFER WRIGHT: It was a restaurant called Pizza by Certe and they still use the product. It’s great pizza there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Where are they located? I want to give them a shout-out. We always want to get the first adopters who took the first step forward some Green is Good love. Where are they located? JENNIFER WRIGHT: You know, what’s interesting about them is that they were seriously our first adopters in the sense that we actually had to hand deliver the boxes to them. We had to go out to the warehouse and hand deliver boxes to them every week. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love these people so where are they located? JENNIFER WRIGHT: They’re at 132 East 56th Street and they’re excellent. They’re really great. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s 56 and what cross? JENNIFER WRIGHT: They’re between Park Avenue and Lexington. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Park and Lex, 56th Street Pizzeria. Go there and tell them thank you for carrying the GreenBox first. I would love that. Come one. JENNIFER WRIGHT: The box is perfect for them too because they have a lot of businesses that they work with and people buying pizza and bringing it back to their desk when they’re working late and they can fold up their leftover pizza and bring it home with them and it works out perfectly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. So this is perfect so now, the company started and you had some of the investment people from Columbia. Who are the partners now? Is it still them? Did you raise more money? Is it just self-funded from here? How is it going in terms of that and where are you going in the years ahead? What’s the dream here now, Jennifer, from here on? Because you sound like you’re rock and roll with Australia coming on, South America, eight manufacturing across the country and you’re going to the pizza expo at the end of the month and you’re going to go land tons more business. What’s next now? What’s the months and years ahead here? JENNIFER WRIGHT: We just want to get the GreenBox brand out there. We have a lot of customers, like Whole Foods, that are very supportive of the brand. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Do they use it in Whole Foods? JENNIFER WRIGHT: Yeah, we’re in half of the Whole Foods regions around the country and that’s growing every day. JOHN SHEGERIAN: More to come. JENNIFER WRIGHT: They actually awarded us with a responsible packaging award a year and a half ago. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. That is great. JENNIFER WRIGHT: They’re very supportive of the product and we want people to look at the GreenBox brand and see something that’s not quote end quote, “greenwash” but is an environmentally friendly product that truly does help the environment so to the extent that we can expand our pizza box business, that’s great and we also want to expand the brand to other products like slice boxes and any other food packaging item that is maybe outdated and outmoded and could be more environmentally friendly so that’s our goal and we’re getting there and to answer your earlier question, we raised that initial capital through a small group of investors at Columbia University and I’m happy to say that we haven’t had to raise any additional capital. We’ve managed to be profitable since year one. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s a great green story. Not only are you making the world a better place, but you’re also green in terms of profitability and that’s a unique combination in this world, especially since you started the business right in the middle of the crisis, ‘08 ‘09 ‘10 and then to be profitable, good for you, Jennifer. That shows great management, great skills on your behalf. JENNIFER WRIGHT: Oh thank you. I think it speaks to the product too. They really just loved it from day one so that made it a lot easier. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How many people are at the company now? How many people do you have working in your group of management team? JENNIFER WRIGHT: There’s now six of us actually. We started with just a few of us and so we’ve grown and then, of course, we work with all of the different plants around the country. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So approximately, you don’t have to give an exact number, how many boxes did GreenBox make last year and get involved with pizza? Was it a million? Was it a half-a-million? Was it 5 million? How many do you think got out there last year? JENNIFER WRIGHT: I knew you were going to ask this question and I should have checked but it’s in the millions and we’re estimating probably 10 million next year. Every box we sell is made from 100% recycled material so that’s a good thing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Great. We’ve got two minutes left here and we have a lot of young entrepreneurs. When Will came on the show, we were a small show in California and stuff of that nature. Now it’s a national show and an international show because not only does Clear Channel broadcast it on their iHeart Radio Network, but after it broadcasts there, it gets broadcast on iTunes so we have listeners we interrelate with in Shanghai and Mumbai and South America and England and all around the world. Give me some pearls of wisdom from Jennifer Wright, a business leader in this world today and not only a business leader, a sustainability leader. JENNIFER WRIGHT: I guess there’s two things that come to mind. The first thing is there’s going to be a lot of naysayers from the beginning and you’ve just got to choose something that you believe in and stick with it and try to ignore the naysayers because if you believe in it and that’s what’s going to make other people believe in it and tenacity. It’s not always easy starting your own business. There’s a lot of work and you’ve just got to stick with it and sometimes we wondered early on whether we would get to this stage but we just kept working and stuck with it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Love it. That is great advice and for our listeners out there that want to buy the GreenBox or use it, all the chains out there should be using it and I know, Jennifer, you’re going to get into the big chains eventually, go to greenboxny.com. Jennifer Wright, thank you for being an inspiring sustainability entrepreneur. You are truly living proof that green is good. JENNIFER WRIGHT: Thank you so much.