That’s cool: Queensland innovators create sustainable fish boxes

TomKat KoolPak’s founders Tom and Kath Long are setting a new benchmark in sustainable packing worldwide.

Tom and Kath have developed an environmentally responsible packaging system designed to protect products, preserve the environment, save money and help businesses meet their sustainable packaging goals.

With $150,000 in Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas Funding, Tom and Kath will set their sights on manufacturing more KoolPak products to distribute to sectors transporting temperature-sensitive products. It also means hiring six staff to cope with the increase in demand.

We caught up with Tom and Kath to learn more about their product and how the Ignite Ideas Fund will help their business grow. 

Tell us a little bit about your business.

TomKat KoolPak is our brainchild that we created in 2019 – it’s an environmentally friendly, robust, stackable and lightweight thermally insulated box to transport and store temperature-sensitive and perishable products. We originally created it to transport the fish we caught to Sydney’s top restaurants, but these boxes can be used to transport anything that needs to be kept cool, from fish to pharmaceuticals.

What inspired you to start your business?

Globally, the seafood industry is responsible for approximately half a billion single-use polystyrene fish boxes entering landfill, the ocean, and the food chain every year. We own a sustainable wild line fishing company, so we needed to find a more environmentally responsible solution to the single-use polystyrene boxes to align with our ethos, but there weren’t any. So that’s why we created and designed the KoolPak – it’s thermally efficient, durable and best of all it can be used multiple times and be recycled at the end of its life. 

What milestones have you reached?

We’ve reached lots of milestones since we first created KoolPak, like back in 2019 when we registered TomKat Global Solutions, which is the entity responsible for bringing the ‘KoolPak Project’ to commercialisation. Since then, we’ve worked with lots of organisations to make sure KoolPak is the best product it can be, with support from grants and investors along the way. There’s not one milestone that is the most important – all of them have contributed to KoolPak’s success.

What achievements are you most proud of to date?

Back in 2019, we were lucky enough to be on the front cover of ‘What’s New in FOOD Technology and Manufacturing’ magazine – it was our first media publication showcasing KoolPak. Then in 2020, we flew fresh, first-class Goldband Snapper in our KoolPak to Josh Niland (Australian chef and restaurateur) at Saint Peter Restaurant in Paddington, Sydney. Josh was thrilled: ‘The packing looks stunning but above all and what was most exciting to see was the fish still in rigor, very cold and not damaged at all. Success!’ It was great feedback from such a renowned chef.

What are your business goals in the next 12-24 months?

Manufacturing! We have established a manufacturing site in Kurrimine Beach in Far North Queensland where we will have the capacity to produce 126,000 units per year. Then we will invest in further manufacturing equipment to increase our capacity.

How will you use your Ignite Ideas Funding?

We are going to use it to establish and build sales traction in the market to make the most of our manufacturing capabilities. This means developing a brand and PR strategy to promote our product and develop our business, not only within the high-value food item sector (like seafood), but logistics companies and pharmaceuticals too.

How will this funding assist your business to grow and/or create jobs?

As we get more sales and manufacture more products, we need staff to be able to do it all! At this stage, two positions will be generated for business development and marketing and four manufacturing personnel will run the manufacturing equipment six days per week. And as we build more manufacturing capabilities these numbers will increase.

Why would you recommend applying for Advance Queensland programs, such as the Ignite Ideas Fund?

It means keeping exciting, entrepreneurial manufacturing and business development projects in Queensland, creating jobs and lots of benefits.

If any, what other support have you received from Advance Queensland or the Queensland Government?

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries provided exceptional support with early temperature monitoring and testing to prove the reliable, efficient thermal performance of the KoolPak.

Why is it important to support Queensland businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs?

Put simply – local innovation = local growth.

What’s your advice for other entrepreneurs and businesses starting out on their innovation journey?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be prepared for many horse and cart/chicken and egg moments. Expect setbacks. Back yourself – if you don’t, you can’t expect anyone else to. Surround yourself with people who are experts in their respective fields and be prepared to listen. You can’t make a better product until you’ve made your first.

Last updated 12 Apr, 2022
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