Innovators at Work is a contest to recognize talented people who not only have great ideas but also turn them into reality through their drive and their actions.
As anyone who has ever taken a sandwich to work or wrapped up leftover food to store in the fridge can attest, the finicky fallibility of plastic film can be frustrating. And that's before you even consider the amount of waste the product generates.
Calgary native Toni Desrosiers was one such consumer, and calling on her background as a trained nutritionist, along with her entrepreneurial spirit ("I was the kid that had the lemonade stand in the fall"), she discovered a more sustainable way to preserve food.
"I've always been innovative in my own life by solving particular things that I need personally, so that's really how Abeego began," Ms. Desrosiers says of the food wrap company she founded with her husband, Colin, in 2008.
"I was unhappy with plastic food wrap and packaging as it was available on the market. We've used natural materials to store food for thousands of years so I wanted to uncover techniques from the past to store food and invent something that was going to suit a modern-day need."
Abeego wraps are a combination of hemp and cotton fabric, infused with beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil. In addition to being reusable – Ms. Desrosiers estimates that each wrap should last for well over a year – the material also allows the food to breathe, with the beeswax making it naturally adhesive, perfect for wrapping a sandwich or covering a bowl.
"I was trying to find a natural solution for a natural problem and that's kind of where the ingredients for Abeego came," she says. "I really investigated the natural properties of the ingredients I was using, how to make things waterproof, how to make things naturally adhesive and all based on the premise that we've done all of these things before plastic food wrap and before synthetics in general."
Abeego, which is based in Victoria, distributes its products to more than 250 stores in Canada and the United States, and Ms. Desrosiers says the company is on pace to grow by 40 per cent this year. The company has always been profitable, she notes, and the goal now is to develop Abeego into a $5-million concern within five years.
"Right now we're focusing on scalability," she says, noting the company manufactured 60,000 sheets of Abeego last year. "We started as a handcrafted, niche kind of cottage brand and our goal now is to figure out how we scale it to meet the growing brand while maintaining the integrity of our product.
"So first is to penetrate the Canadian and the U.S. markets in the way that we would really like to do it, and from there we will investigate international opportunities."
The 35-year-old also discovered other benefits from her Abeego invention, and in line with her company's stated aim as a "zero waste" enterprise, found uses for the byproducts of production.
"All of our waste materials – we call them waste-generated resources – we use them for something else," she explains. "So we've created our own version of the twist tie, so we have little strips of excess Abeego, we call them Abeebits, and they work exactly like a twist tie. Any of the other excess waste that we have we press into little bricks and they will be sold as fire starters."
Though Ms. Desrosiers feels that more traditional plastic wrap companies have done an incredible job with marketing – "We're all using it and we all believe in it" – she expresses confidence that her product could eventually compete with the bigger players in the industry.
"[Because] it's reusable you're going to have it for well over a year and it's priced quite equally to a year's supply of plastic food wrap," she says. "The bigger difference is that because it's natural and the natural properties that exist – for example, beeswax is antibacterial and tree resin anti-microbial and the fabric itself is breathable – food stays fresher in Abeego in many cases than it does in plastic food wrap."