Beacon firm creates edible glasses, straws
By Brian PJ Cronin
Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker’s appearance on the ABC reality show Shark Tank in 2015 as nearly a year in the making. After months of interviews with producers, the entrepreneurs were presented with plane tickets to Los Angeles to … wait.
“They warn you that they don’t know if they’re actually going to bring you to the studio,” Tucker recalls. “Then one night they tell you: ‘We’re picking you up in a few hours and bringing you to the studio, but you might not get picked to go on. And even if you do get picked, your part might not get aired.’ ”
The pair did get picked, which meant facing down a squad of wealthy investors to introduce, as well as defend, the flagship product of their company, Loliware.
“We were fully prepared for them to rip us to shreds,” says Tucker. “I mean … it’s an edible cup.”
The sharks did not rip them to shreds. Instead, all but one saw the potential in a cup made of a seaweed-based bioplastic. They each ate a cup. And then, after two offers to pay $600,000 for a 25 percent stake in the company, five of the six started bickering over who should get the deal.
In the end, Briganti and Tucker partnered with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The night the episode aired, $130,000 worth of orders poured into their website, which was a problem because the women had been making 500 cups a day by themselves at a space in Queens.
“All of a sudden, we’re getting these orders for 100,000 cups,” says Briganti.
Since then, much has changed. Their cups are produced en masse at a small, female-staffed factory in Mexico. Loliware relocated from New York City to the outskirts of Beacon. And the women are scouting locations in the Hudson Valley for a factory to produce their latest invention: sugar-free, flavored, edible drinking straws that dissolve after 24 hours. (Loliware has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 by Jan. 10 to begin production. More than $14,000 has been pledged.)
If biodegradable cups and straws become a standard, they could have a huge impact on the environment. Americans use an estimated 500 million plastic straws each day, many of which end up in waterways and the oceans. Most are made from polylactic acid (PLA), which takes so much time and energy to break down that many composting facilities won’t take them.
Loliware’s straws, which are made of seaweed, have the potential to become what Briganti refers to as “one silver bullet out of the 100 that are needed to solve the plastics crisis.”
She adds: “We’re not asking the consumer to stop using straws, we’re giving them a better straw. When you start punishing people and taking away things, you have less compliance.”
Briganti says the company has overcome one major obstacle by reducing the cost of making an unflavored Lolistraw to that of a PLA straw. With more cities adding composting to their waste management flow, and Seattle about to ban plastic utensils and straws altogether, the company pitches its products as a way for businesses to reduce costs while also being compliant with new regulations.
The straws are more than simply good for the environment; they add flavor. For instance, a lemon straw turns water into lemon-flavored water. Coffee shops could serve vanilla straws with iced coffee. (Even a grape prototype I tested with the only beverage within reach — hot coffee, not exactly a pairing that Briganti and Tucker have in mind — was surprisingly tasty.)
With the right formula, the straws could have nutritional benefit for uses both fun (a smoothie shop serving protein-infused straws) and lifesaving (refugees provided with vitamin-infused straws). Next, they have their minds set on outer space. “We want to make edible packaging that can go to Mars,” Briganti says.