Louise Hurlbut, MBA ’79: Beneterre
by Irene Kim
If you’ve ever packed a lunch for yourself, a spouse, and maybe a kid or two, you know that you can go through a lot of packaging pretty fast. Just think of all the plastic sandwich and snack bags, plastic wrap, and foil needed to pack lunches day after day.
Now think of replacing that waste with completely reusable food packaging, and you have an idea of Beneterre. The company’s elegantly simple proposition is to offer waterproof fabric bags and wraps for your family’s sandwiches and baby carrots with dip. The company also makes fabric mesh bags for supermarket produce, and sturdy wine carriers that accommodate half a dozen bottles.
Louise Hurlbut, cofounder of the Boppy Co. (maker of the renowned breastfeeding pillow) hatched the idea of Beneterre with friend Ann Swanson. Both women were business veterans — Hurlbut at Frito-Lay, Beatrice Foods, and Time Warner Cable, and Swanson at IBM, the Walt Disney Company, and ESPN. Swanson wanted to start a line of home linens; Hurlbut wanted to do “something green.” “We combined the two ideas and came up with a concept of a line of products that were fashionably good for the earth,” says Hurlbut.
They tried a number of different items, including dishtowels and lunch boxes, before deciding on the current product line. The company started up in 2009. Beneterre is self-funded, and Hurlbut says her biggest challenge is maintaining working capital. The company is committed to making its products in the United States, which makes it difficult to keep costs low. In addition, there are no barriers to entry, so Beneterre must constantly innovate and find new ways to help consumers be environmentally conscious.
The average American generates more than four pounds of garbage a day (U.S. EPA, 2009); about 40 percent is paper and plastic. Sounds like a promising target for Beneterre’s new-product development team.