Family Business Naku Develops Packaging Made from Renewable Raw Materials
5/6/2024 Sustainability Insights Women in the packaging industry Article

Family Business Naku Develops Packaging Made from Renewable Raw Materials

Since its launch in 2007, the Vienna-based packaging company Naku has exclusively used materials made from 100 percent natural raw materials. In an exclusive interview, Ute Zimmermann talks about the alternative bottles, bags, and pouches that the Austrians call “Sackerl.”

Three Bottles made from natural raw materials filled with fruit juices and surrounded by fruit. Naku bottles contain no plasticizers and are made of natural plastic (PLA – lactic acid). This natural plastic is made from natural and renewable raw materials.
The development and production of packaging materials made exclusively from natural resources and completely without plastic: this was the goal of Ute and Johann Zimmermann when they began working on the first concepts for corresponding solutions in 1999. In 2007, they founded their company Naku and launched the first packaging made from natural raw materials onto the market. During research and development, her husband and she realized that it could become something big, says Ute Zimmermann looking back. “Our aim was to use natural raw materials that are completely biodegradable. Today, we have the Double Loop with a dual circular economy. The products are recyclable, but also compostable.” They promise “120% sustainability” for the bottles, as they are made from 100 percent natural plastics without the use of plasticizers and 20 percent recycled PLA (polyactide).
Portrait of Ute Zimmermann with blonde hair and grey polo shirt. Viennese entrepreneur Ute Zimmermann took the plunge into self-employment with her husband and has not regretted it.

Bags as a Mass Product

In addition to bottles, the small company from Vienna focuses on bags and pouches. “Bags are our mass product.” The product range includes freezer bags, garbage bags, shopping bags, and food containers such as the “cheese sleeping bag.” According to the manufacturers, the cling film bags decompose in an industrial composting plant in three to five days. Alternative materials for plastics include corn starch, potatoes, sunflowers, grain, or sugar, from which the PLA for the bottles is made. “90 percent of the renewable raw materials come from regional cultivation areas or from Europe, without the use of genetic engineering.”

Difficult Start for Food Suppliers

Entering the market after the company was founded in 2007 was not easy. “We wanted to get in with the big players, but it was difficult. When we started in 2007, they didn't have to use green products. Many simply didn’t want them. We realized that people weren’t all waiting for us,” says Ute Zimmermann. The aim was to show customers that the products decomposed quickly and that natural raw materials were safer than plastic. Not an easy process. “There are always critical questions. But I’m happy to answer them. I wish others would ask these questions too. But people often don’t ask about plastics.” In many cases, working with the companies was no fun. “We often had to pay for it. They pushed us down on the terms and conditions.” The issue of pricing was always the decisive criterion for the chain stores.

Presence at FACHPACK

A small company needs large partners in order to achieve a level of awareness. Zimmermann’s presence at trade fairs such as FACHPACK also serves as an aid in this. “The growing emphasis on sustainability suits us very well. It’s a great opportunity to present our sustainable products to a wider audience.” Today, Naku works with almost all organic stores in Austria and many in Germany. Its customers also include many pharmacies.

Job and Family

After around 17 years, Zimmermann looks back with satisfaction on the establishment and development of Naku and her time as an entrepreneur. “I had always wanted to be self-employed.” So, she left her job at Siemens and took the step. “I just went for it.” Working with her husband helped. They took turns in the office and with childcare and were able to organize their time flexibly. “But we were working24/7.” Her two sons were often in the office during the day. “That was particularly helpful during the start-up phase. We always integrated the children. They were also with us at trade fairs. Sure, things could have gone wrong, but we were very lucky. We were the children’s companions and had a lot of fun.” She must have had the right touch, as both sons now work in the company.