Sustainable Packaging: Changing the Way We Experience Takeout
Megan Takeda-Tully (BCom ’07) is the founder and CEO of Suppli, an innovative business that offers sustainable packaging for takeout food. Based in Toronto, Suppli partners with restaurants and online ordering platforms to offer customers the option of enjoying their favourite takeout foods in reusable containers. Customers rinse the containers and return them to a local drop-off bin, reducing the huge amount of single-use takeout packaging disposed of every year.
After completing a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance from the Telfer School of Management in 2007, and a successful eight-year career in the Toronto public investment industry, Megan left Bay Street to follow one of her passions: using innovative business models to tackle social challenges. She spent five years building and overseeing a $140 million entrepreneur-financing portfolio at Grand Challenges Canada, working with early-stage entrepreneurs from all over the world. In 2020, seeing a gap in the market and an opportunity to put all her skills and passion to work, she launched her own social enterprise, Suppli.
Learning Business Skills Through Sports
Born and raised in Toronto and a talented athlete in a variety of sports, Megan was interested in the University of Ottawa because of its athletics. She thrived in soccer and played hockey for the uOttawa Gee-Gees. During her time as an athlete, Megan learned valuable skills that drove her success in athletics and supported her entrepreneurial journey.
Megan says that as an athlete, no one pushes you to prepare for a game and you must learn self-discipline. Similarly, as an entrepreneur, she had to work through the challenges of starting a business by herself. “At the beginning, it was just me motivating myself to get up, do the work and go through the rigorous process.” The pandemic brought on additional challenges — Megan was working full time on Suppli and had two young children at home due to the lockdown. “But I knew I wanted to start this company.”
There were also some major takeaways in leadership from her time as an athlete. “In a team, there are different types of people in different roles that are motivated in different ways.” Megan learned the importance of adjusting her approach to supporting and motivating different personalities to help them realize their potential.
Learning Social Entrepreneurship at Telfer
During her undergraduate degree, one class in particular sparked Megan’s interest and eventually helped her in launching Suppli. Focusing on hands-on projects and case studies, Telfer’s Social Entrepreneurship course teaches students how to move a social enterprise concept through the process from idea to plan. “In this course, I learned there’s endless possibilities of what you can do with finance and taking a creative approach to business models.”
When Megan was growing up, sustainability was a value that was modelled for her in many ways. Her family prioritized waste reduction through actions such as washing out bags to reuse and separating recycled items. Although Megan had practised green living, it was travelling to developing countries that really made her realize how much waste ends up in oceans and landfills. Megan saw the impact that decisions and waste production in wealthier countries had on the most vulnerable populations, in particular, in low- and middle-income countries.
As well, more than a decade ago, Megan watched a documentary on India’s Tiffin lunchboxes and dabbawalas, a system that delivers hot meals from homes and restaurants to people at work. Driven by her passion for sustainability, Megan was inspired by the documentary and began developing the concept for a similar system for takeout food in Canada. She pitched the idea to her friends at a dinner party but received mixed feedback.
After discussing the convenience of single-use packaging for takeout food, Megan felt that the market wasn’t ready. “I was excited that people said no, because it meant that I was early with the idea.”
A few years later, Megan was enjoying dinner with the same group of friends when a discussion around single-use packaging for takeout food took place again, unprompted by her. Her friends were lamenting all the single-use packaging waste from meal kits and food delivery. It was then that Megan felt the market was ready for the concept that eventually became Suppli.
Megan dove into research, the first step in launching Suppli. She surveyed 100 people living and working in Toronto, spoke with restaurants and business owners, and worked to find the optimal takeout container to launch with. “I knew that sustainable packaging was going to be the way of the future,” she says. “I knew there was a solution we could build.”
Suppli Containers and the Circular Economy
Suppli is part of the circular economy, aiming to keep resources in use for as long as possible rather than follow the traditional “make → use → dispose” model. “It pains restaurants to give away so much single-use packaging,” she explains. “But sometimes they don’t have an alternate solution, which is what we’re trying to provide them.”
Megan started working on her business in January 2020, just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought on unique challenges for the entrepreneur. She spent several months trying to find the right containers. “Things were delayed, and costs were going up, which posed many challenges to launching Suppli.”
Finally, she was able to find containers made of stainless-steel bases and silicone lids. They’re sourced sustainably, kept for thousands of uses and have bases that are 100% recyclable and lids that can be downcycled at end of life. Since the launch of Suppli in late 2020, this uniquely designed sustainable packaging model has diverted over 60,000 single-use takeout containers from landfills.
“Founding Suppli connected my passion for sustainability and social impact,” Megan says.
Megan says that timing is everything when launching your business, and although the pandemic created obstacles, it may have also created the perfect opportunity. Delivery services were in high demand and waste had skyrocketed. “I wanted something that would be fundamentally strong, pandemic or no pandemic.”
Growing the Business Sustainably
The Suppli team has expansion on the horizon, but first comes perfecting its business model in the GTA. Currently, Suppli drop-off bins are located around Toronto in grocery stores, restaurants or even outdoors. The goal is to have drop-off locations no further than a five to seven-minute walk from any of its customers. “Our operations have to fit easily into people’s lives,” says Megan.
Meanwhile, Suppli has formed a partnership with a corporate catering app in the GTA. It’s also in conversations with other major takeout apps to support a reusable packaging option for their restaurants and customers. “I’m proud that we are recognized throughout many communities. We’re a brand leader in sustainable packaging across Canada and North America. People in other countries know who we are and what we’re building and are excited to hear about it.”
Suppli has grown since its launch in October 2020, and Telfer looks forward to following Suppli’s exciting growth trajectory over the coming years.