Q&A with Spicers Mill, A Plastic Free Company

Spicers Mill is a gourmet spice company and a PPC member. Read our Q&A with Jackie Cullen, founder and CEO of Spicers Mill.

What motivated you to create a plastic-free company?

My husband Jim [who is COO of Spicers Mill] and I have always had a passion for spices and cooking and over the years, we have developed many different blends and rubs for our own personal use. The true impetus to move forward with a venture in "plastics free spices" was actually fostered by musician Jackson Browne [a PPC notable member]. We have been huge fans since the mid-seventies and during one of his concerts in Virginia some years ago, he mentioned his metal water bottles and the need for people to wake up and take notice of what we are doing to our environment with plastics. Up until that point, we were just like everyone else, blindly accepting what was handed to us by the manufacturers and thinking that the recycling programs in place had this all covered.

With that myth quickly dissolved, we started to do some of our own research and delve more deeply into the real problems that single use plastics are causing in the environment. We became obsessed while walking through the supermarket, looking at the vast amounts of plastic used in all facets of food commerce. We then started wondering about "how" industry used to do it before plastics became the popular choice and decided that there was no reason that we couldn’t revert back to those methods and perhaps even improve upon them.

A desire to make a difference was born.

What challenges have you faced in eliminating plastic in all of the processes and packaging of your spices?

The hardest part in the development of our product line was finding vendors that could supply the plastics free components that we needed and specified. We literally spent 6+ months researching and vetting companies with the ability and/or desire to work with us to achieve our end goal: 100 percent plastics free. The resistance that we encountered with some of the companies was truly shocking and frankly demoralizing.

But, persistence and due diligence paid off and we were able to find the right vendors and bring our vision to fruition. All of the packaging is our own design and countless hours of development to circumvent plastics use were executed to achieve the final versions. We firmly believe in continuous improvement in all of our overall processes and we have even begun pressuring our vendors to deliver our goods without plastics or styrofoam.

According to a recent study, about 40 percent of plastic pollution comes from food packaging. How is Spicers Mill changing the status quo?

Our commitment to being "100 percent plastics free" is not just idle marketing hype. Our product packaging and the shipping materials utilized are completely devoid of any plastics (or styrofoam). We use glass jars with metal lids and the lid liners are pulp paper (like they used in the 1920s through the 1950s). We use recycled cardboard (for boxes) and recycled paper (for jar labels) as well as an innovative paper tape “tamper proof” method; in lieu of the plastic ones used on virtually all jars and containers. We even use paper gummed tape (with no fiberglass strings) for our box packaging.

While the manufacturing costs are much higher, the net result makes us able to declare that we are without a doubt 100 percent plastics free. Despite the fact that we are a small start-up company doing battle with the omnipresent giants, we feel that even putting a small dent into this problem makes a big difference and that perhaps we can assist or augment an overall mentality change in this arena with our approach.   

How does packaging spices in glass affect the spices?

Freshness and taste are tremendously impacted by the elimination of plastics. The difference in the taste and smell of our products in comparison to those packaged in plastic containers is incredible. We believe that because of our methods, we deliver the finest and freshest spices and blends available anywhere.

It is a proven fact that toxic chemicals leach from plastic containers into food and that, in turn, causes content flavor changes as well as potential long term health risks. The studies on this are just beginning and we believe that they will reveal that the alarming increase of health issues the world is experiencing will ultimately be tied to the rampant use of plastic packaging in food products.

What do you hear from customers about your plastic-free packaging?

The positive response we have received from the bulk of our customers has been truly inspirational. Most have conveyed appreciation for what we are trying to do and desire to know more about the overall plastics problem. The overarching opinion from those we encounter is that if given a choice, they would choose an environmentally responsible product over one that is not, even if the cost was slightly higher.

We have begun developing relationships with many dealers in beach areas strictly because of our plastics free stance and they now carry our products because of it. The keen awareness of the plastic pollution issue seems to be more prevalent in these areas as they are at the front line of the problem.

What are your most popular spices? 

That’s not an easy question to answer as we see different spikes in popularity of products in different regions. Most people tend to migrate towards the varying blends and rubs that we create and our new line of bread dips are starting to gain some enthusiasm as well. Currently, we carry over 100 varying spices and blends along with some really hard to find specialty items.

We are constantly in development of new and unique products and we continue to strive for excellence in everything that we offer.  

Do you have any new products coming out? What's next for Spicers Mill?

We have a brand new line of gourmet popcorn coming out shortly, complete with popcorn seasonings of all different and exciting flavors. Additionally, we have a line of baked potato toppings that is set to launch in early April of this year.

Our immediate goals are to expand our product offerings further while simultaneously extending our reach in the market so we can continue to bring further awareness to the plastics problem. We are proud to stand with the Plastic Pollution Coalition and we will do whatever we can to continue to work towards a world free of plastic pollution. 

Thank you, Spicers Mill!

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