Friends for Life
Young Ontario entrepreneurs on a mission to eliminate single-use plastic packaging in Canadian food service with reusable takeout containers
You can never have too many friends in the sustainability business, and the sheer pace and success with which A Friendlier Company (AFC) is making friends in all the right places is a truly exceptional tale of how Canada’s younger generation plans to address the world’s plastic pollution crisis with entrepreneurial zeal and purity of purpose.
Launched in October of 2020 by University of Waterloo graduates Jacquie Hutchings and Kayli Dale, the Guelph, Ont.-based company is on a mission to make single-use food takeout containers a thing of the past through a unique service that provides restaurants and food-service operators with high-quality, durable reusable containers through an app-driven deposit-return program designed to encourage reuse of the company’s distinct takeout containers by 100 times.
Partly inspired by the federal government’s ban on many single-use plastic products, AFC has quickly attracted numerous local food-service operators to sign up for the service, which not only saves them money—compared to other ostensibly sustainable takeout options—but also fosters strong consumer loyalty among their customers by making them willing participants in the ongoing war on plastic waste.
“The initial response to our reuse system has been incredible and demand has been increasing rapidly,” says AFC co-founder and chief executive officer Hutchings, who met Dale while studying chemical engineering in university.
During the third year of their studies, the two schoolmates traveled to Sweden on a four-month co-op posting, where they learned a great deal about the Circular Economy, minimalism and sustainable design.
While in Europe, the two familiarized themselves with some long-cherished circular concepts—such as reusable mugs for mulled wine at outdoor Christmas festivals and reusable beer cups at rugby matches—deciding to introduce similar principles to the North American marketplace upon their return.
“We knew that North American consumers were more convenience-driven than those in Europe,” Hutchings says, “so we came up with the Friendlier concept to make reuse convenient.”
Drawing additional inspiration from The Beer Store’s return program for alcohol bottles, the young entrepreneurs developed an app for tracking individual containers as their make their way through the value chain, before collecting and sanitizing the used containers back to their “just as new” state, Hutchings explains.
“What makes Friendlier containers superior to all other available containers is the innovative reuse system which we have created,” Hutchings states. “We are making it possible for people to use reusable packaging at their usual cafe, without having to remember to bring their own.
“Users can access reusable packaging on-the-go, and they can bring it back for a digital deposit.
“Previously, consumers have been required to choose between getting a meal on-the-go and accepting wasteful packaging, or having their meals prepared in advance and bringing their own container,” says Hutchings. “With Friendlier, all meals can be served in zero-waste packaging.”
As Hutchings points out, “The federal single-use plastic ban and other similar regulations, along with consumer-driven demand, have been pushing brands away from single-use packaging.
“Beyond sustainability, we’ve been able to provide additional benefits to our clients by helping them connect with their customers in a noble cause.”
Currently serving a diverse fast-growing base of food-service companies, including higher education institutions, corporate cafeterias, restaurants, grocery stores, and prepared meal companies, AFC can work with any size of business, says Hutchings, citing an existing base of over 200 companies.
“We work with companies of all sizes, from mom-and-pop shops to multinational organizations,” says Hutchings, singling out The Compass Group, Aramark and Loblaw Companies as AFC’s largest clients to date.
Says Hutchings: “Our Friendlier packaging incentives prompt consumers to return more frequently to their preferred food-service business on our program, which also creates quantifiable environmental impact data and encourages businesses to join the growing reuse community.
“When listed as a Friendlier partner, businesses are highlighted on our app and website for all Friendlier users to see—offering an excellent way to get more value from our packaging.”
As Hutchings relates, Friendlier offers over 10 different meal container sizes and shapes, as well as coffee cups and cold beverage cups.
“Our most popular sizes include the 28-oz and 38-oz rectangular containers, providing versatility and ample space for various meals and portions.
“Additionally, our 8-oz, 16-oz and 32-oz deli containers are convenient choices for soups, sauces and smaller portions,” Hutchings adds.
“With Friendlier, customers can find the perfect container for their specific food requirements, whether it’s storing main courses, salads, deli items, sides, or even meal prepping,” she states.
“We strive to meet the diverse needs of individuals and food businesses, ensuring that our containers provide a reliable solution for every food storage and transportation need.”
All Friendlier containers are locally manufactured in Ontario, Hutchings points out, using 24 per cent less energy than the average standard single-use container.
The 100 per cent BPA-free containers are also microwave-, dishwasher- and freezer-safe, she points out, and are certified for reuse up to 100 times, after which they are fully recycled.
“All of our packaging is rigorously tested to ensure they are safe for reuse,” Hitching states.
“We handle the distribution and logistics of our packaging, and optimize our delivery and collections routes to minimize transportation emissions.
“Friendlier manages an inventory of packaging so that customers can place orders as needed and know that it will be delivered in a timely fashion,” Hutchings elaborates.
“Additionally, we take care of the crucial steps of washing and sanitization to prepare the containers for reuse, following industry best practices and maintaining high hygiene standards,” she notes.
“Friendlier is committed to providing customers with quality containers, efficient logistics, and a seamless reuse system.”
As for the food safety aspect, our Guelph and Ottawa facilities are responsible for the comprehensive sanitation process of our containers for reuse,” Hutchings relates.
“We employ advanced cleaning technologies and strict hygiene protocols to ensure thorough sanitation.
“The process involves sorting, washing with eco-friendly agents, high-temperature sanitization, and meticulous quality inspections,” Hutchings explains.
“Friendlier’s commitment to maintaining a clean and safe environment ensures that our containers meet the highest standards of hygiene and are always ready for reuse.”
Currently employing 39 full-time people, Friendlier has already supplied well over 10,000 containers to its existing customers, according to Hutchings, who is currently finalizing plans to extend the company’s services nationwide.
“We have developed a comprehensive plan to cope with the increased production volumes, longer supply chains and more challenging logistics,” she confides.
“As we scale up, we will be setting up sanitation and logistics facilities and logistics in the new regions,” she says.
“Our goal is to maintain the same level of excellence in terms of product quality, distribution efficiency, and sustainability as we expand nationwide.”
Such expansion will certainly further validate the viability of the company’s unique service offering, which has already earned AFC a 2022 PAC Global Award for sustainable design, along with inclusion in Forbes magazine’s prestigious annual 30-under-30 list honouring North America’s most promising young entrepreneurs.
“Such accolades inspire us to continue pushing boundaries, driving innovation, and striving for excellence as we work towards a more sustainable future,” says Hutchings.
For all that praise, though, Hutchings says she is even more proud of the company’s considerable contribution to protecting the environment by helping eliminate problematic single-use plastic packaging for good.
“Our efforts have led to significant environmental impact and carbon-footprint reduction,” she proclaims. “To date, we have saved approximately 4,746,969 litres of water, diverted 34,014 kilograms of plastic waste, and avoided 98,524 kilograms of greenhouse-gas emissions.
“These achievements highlight the positive effect of promoting reusable packaging and sustainable practices,” she states. “As our customer base expands, the potential for further reductions in environmental impact is promising.
“Friendlier remains committed to driving progress and creating a more sustainable food-packaging industry.”
As Hutchings sums up: “Friendlier is revolutionizing packaging by making it easy to reuse. And as we continue shifting society from a throwaway culture to a return-and-reuse culture, we are excited to be leading this movement in Canada and look forward to a world with no waste.”