Local mom Kim Castner accidentally fell into the role of inventor and entrepreneur when trying to solve one of her family's challenges: how to reduce lunchtime waste. After sending her kids to school for years without a proper solution, Castner went to work designing her own. She has been featured by major media, including a trip to "The Today Show," and she chatted with Patch about the journey so far.
Patch: Where did you get the idea?
Castner: It just kind of happened. I'm not an entrepreneur. I know nothing about plastics. And I'm honestly not that creative. I just couldn't find a product for my children that met my needs. My kids were at Grand View (Elementary School), and they wanted us to bring a trash free lunch. I tried buying tupperware, and it didn't fit in the lunch boxes correctly. The kids were coming home with one bottom, three tops.
Patch: So you thought to create your own lunch box?
Castner: Well, we found one that may have been a solution, but my older daughter refused to carry it because it was so ugly. And the pieces were still getting lost. I just thought, 'Gosh, there has got to be a way to do this. One lid, five sections for fruit, cookies and other things.' So I started calling around to plastic companies. I quickly learned that to get someone to sketch this and build a mold, it was going to cost $75 for me to sell. That wasn't going to work.
Patch: How did you get the box made?
Castner: I started talking to my parents about my idea, and they said we should talk to a family friend who imports from China. Wasn't sure I wanted to go to China, with all the bad sentiments, but I spoke with him. I was very concerned about safety. He's American-born, living in Singapore and when he was in the U.S., he met with me and said he could find me manufacturers for a fraction of the price.
I'd done focus groups, gathered statistics, and I really thought this was a product that would do well in the marketplace. He left the meeting and called to say I had a really good idea. He asked, "What do you think about us being partners?" At first I didn't want to share the idea, but knowing that he could figure out how to get it made to my standards - look, quality and safety - it just seemed like giving up half the business would make the business. It's a great partnership now. He lives in Redondo Beach and has two sons. He travels to China to get the product made.
Patch: Where did you go from there?
Castner: Our first version was okay, and now we have a really good product. We're still small, but we sold over 10,000 lunch boxes last year and hope to sell more next year. I've learned a ton about manufacturing, marketing and finance. We keep innovating. We created a technology that we're patenting now called a "turn lock" system. Next year we're making four changes. We'll implement a breathable fabric, we're changing a top to the water bottle so it won't leak. Every year there are little modifications based on children's behavior.
Patch: Has the lunch box been well received in the community?
Castner: The schools save money on trash pick up. Grand View cut their trash substantially. I think it was from 25 bags a day to four bags a day. Waste Management [the city's trash hauler] comes less often. It all trickles down. From trash bag liners to paying the trucks to saving on emissions from the trash trucks, everybody wins.
Patch: And you've expanded?
Castner: We sell to schools in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas. All these schools need money, so they're always asking you to buy items for fundraisers, like cookie dough or wrapping paper. My product is something parents need to buy anyway, so it's a great school fundraiser. We give between $5-$8 per lunch box set right back to the school, and it really adds up. Parents are compelled to spend a little bit more when some of the money goes back to the school. I'd like to expand that fundraising effort. It's been a really great way to form partnerships with schools, and it's helped my bottom line.
Patch: Do you have full-time employees?
Castner: Just the two of us continue to do it all. We'll get to the point where we have to hire more. Occasionally we hire my mom or my kids for a day or two. My husband does my taxes. At one point we had a delay in shipment, and I invited 15 friends over to pack up lunch boxes with me in assembly-line fashion all afternoon. I couldn't pay them, but they all showed up to help. Everybody's been so supportive.
Patch: What makes your lunch box worth the extra money?
Castner: The biggest "aha" was the white board on the back. That's the "I've got to have it" feature. I've never seen another product with that.
Patch: What is the most rewarding part?
Castner: I love walking around town and seeing all the kids using the lunch boxes; it's a dream come true. And I work out of my home which I love. I hadn't worked for about 10 years prior to this. Having two children and such a full life, I never feel lonely. I'm honestly shocked someone like me has been able to do this.
The Go Green Lunch Box is available direct from the website, at and other local retailers, and in school fundraisers.