Perhaps the Best Things Since…
Sliced bread, potato flakes, or canned tuna – we are seeing more innovations in the processed edibles markets. Yet these are not for items that are consumed and then have the bags, boxes, or cans thrown away. Most of those innovations, we now know, have contributed to an energy crisis through their materials use, production, and distribution, and a pollution epidemic through their “disposal.” As modern consumers are addicted to convenience, the challenge is finding a balance between gratification and responsible consumerism. The pool of inventors attempting to meet this challenge is growing. Recently, some inventors have developed items with packages that are, literally, consumable.
They are like edible water balloons, also referred to as sachets, packets, blobs, edible bottles and water bubbles. Ooho! is a watery finger-food.
Skipping Rocks Lab, based in London and part of a program founded by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), is focused on reducing the damage that billions of plastic water bottles are doing to our planet. The young scientific team has found a solution that uses sustainable resources for manufacturing and a biodegradable substance for discarding.
Ooho! is a water-filled spherical package comprised of brown seaweed extract (alginates) and calcium chloride. The first applications are clear, but further development shows that the outer membrane can be colored or even flavored. A thirsty soul can pick up Ooho!, which looks to be about the size of a plum, and either pop the membrane and slurp the water out or just take the plunge and eat the whole thing. The first option looks a little drippy, but the amount of residual waste is minimal and will break down in a matter of weeks.
Skipping Rocks has tested Ooho! with people at athletic events, providing hydration for runners, and other public giveaways. Both the pop-and-slurp or the eat-it-whole methods seem to turn initial skeptics into smiling believers. This solution still needs to address aspects such as hygienics, storage and shelf-life, and transport for distribution. Thus, it is not yet available on the market.
The design and manufacturing of an edible packaging membrane has predecessors from as early as 1942 through the later 20th century . For their invention, Skipping Rocks Lab has filed patent applications for Composite material for packaging (GB201704537D0, May 3, 2017; GB201804571D0, May 9, 2018) and the Method of encapsulating liquid products (GB201704547D0, May 3, 2017). With sustainability a growing motivator in purchasing choices, the young company is smart to protect its intellectual property and secure its freedom to operate in this space. Their mission is: “to provide the convenience of plastic bottles while limiting the environmental impact.” To most people, the idea of mouth-popping water pods is wholly novel.
Where Ooho! looks like it might especially appeal to people on-the-go, LOLIWARE, LLC (New York) is ready to serve people who want to enjoy a beverage in a social setting without generating a lot of garbage. LOLIWARE presents a pretty, fruity, edible cup that can hold drinks, desserts, and more. This might provide a tasty way to make sustainability elegant — or at least an environmentally friendly version of the big red plastic cup.
In addition to reducing consumer waste, LOLIWARE leans toward supporting better health with its non-GMO and gluten-free composition. (What you put in the cup is at your own discretion.) Once again, seaweed is the main ingredient for the edible cup. Along with that are organic sweeteners, filtered water, and plant-based coloring. If you don’t want to eat it, you can compost it or throw it away. Within four to six weeks, it will break down and return to the earth. A compostable paper sleeve accompanies the cup, in case you are worried about germy fingers. The packaging for the tableware is also biodegradable.
The company touts its innovation as, “the first and only edible disposable cup” . The LOLIWARE patent for the Edible cup (USD782150, Mar 28, 2017) has the main claim stated as, “the ornamental design for an edible cup” . The function of the design is to keep the cup from becoming slippery. Prior to that, the company patented the composition and method for making the edible substance with, Edible material (US20160324207, Nov 10, 2016). In addition, they present a solution for an extended shelf life with a biodegradable product. Despite its recent beginnings, having launched fewer than four years ago, LOLIWARE knows the value of patents and was quick to make its mark.
LOLIWARE’s “biodegr(edible)” cups are in full production and are available for purchase. Large hotels and restaurants are already offering this edible drinking alternative to their patrons. Moving forward, the company plans to introduce straws, water bottles, and other forms of tableware to their line. Keeping fun, function, and sustainability in mind, LOLIWARE wants “to transform the tableware and packaging industries by creating products that are non-toxic, fun, and delicious” .
The work of Skipping Rocks Lab and LOLIWARE is not only innovative, but also shows youthful agility in the intellectual property arena. New inventors are not taking their ideas for granted and realize the potential value of investing in the patenting process. This may be especially true in the consumer-driven markets, where people are increasingly making conscious efforts to purchase products that are beneficial to their health and/or the planet’s well-being. The groups of inventors presented in this article bring us edible packaging alternatives that support sustainability – and bring out a bit of fun!