An orange tabby kitten was found with a plastic ring around his neck that had begun to dig into his neck. The image of the little one sparked a sustainability revolution.
Munchkin the orange tabby was rescued by Laura Baker in February 2021, when she saw the poor kitten had his neck stuck inside what appeared to be a plastic ring. The ring had begun to dig into the kitten's neck as he grew and was causing him severe harm. Baker—who runs Itty Bitty Kitty City, a rescue agency for young animals—posted about the kitten on Facebook, attempting to raise funds for the poor kitty's treatment. When it was determined that the cat had become stuck in the packaging of the Munchkin brand's Any Angle Cup, she wrote to the company to inform it of what had happened, reports Good News Network. To her surprise, Munchkin was very receptive to the feedback and generously offered to pay for the kitten's medical care. It also donated $2,500 to the rescue organization. However, that wasn't the end of it. The photo of the injured tabby was so impactful that it brought about a corporate revolution that will cut plastic use by 643,630 pounds every year.
“It was soul-crushing to read Laura’s [the rescuer] note and look at the photos of that sweet kitten, both personally because I’m a passionate advocate for animals and a pet parent myself of two cats, and professionally,” said Diana Barnes, Chief Brand Officer and Creative Director at Munchkin. “We’ve all seen marine life and animals that are entangled in plastic, but no executive ever wants to imagine their brand is the source of this suffering. Laura asked us for nothing, she simply wanted awareness, she was asking us to do better.”
Munchkin eventually got better. In February 2021, Laura posted an update regarding the feline's health on Facebook, writing: "Munchkin’s wound is closed! This little scaredy-cat loves his belly rubs and rolls around like a little roly-poly and purrs really loud well getting his pets, but he still working on not being a scaredy-cat LOL." Meanwhile, the feline had already caused a long-lasting impact back at Munchkin Inc's offices, where Barnes was highly affected by the injury the company had caused to the little one.
Barnes referred to cups as Munchkin's product line's "holy grail." They had just finished completely redesigning and rebranding all 500 different kinds of packaging when they heard about the kitten. Since the thought of Munchkin the cat being injured by their packaging was too much to bear, Barnes and her crew immediately returned to the drawing board.
After a year of research and development and over 250 packaging transit tests, Munchkin created animal-safe packaging for 478 Munchkin cup SKUs. The new design uses e-flute corrugated linerboard comprised of 60-70% recycled material and is devoid of plastic. The packaging will readily tear apart if another animal finds itself in a similar scenario to how Munchkin the Cat was trapped. The company also added QR codes to the cup packaging as part of the redesign process to direct customers to online user guides. Due to the removal of the paper instructions, the company was able to save 37,278 lbs of paper each year. Prior to this change, Munchkin's cup instructions would have covered the length of California 1.5 times if they were all laid end to end.
The volunteers at Itty Bitty Kitty City were shocked and "overwhelmed" to witness this large national corporation go through this massive financial expenditure to protect animals and the environment. However, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that a pair of injured kitten eyes have such power of persuasion. The company posted the full story behind their repackaging and their inspiration on Instagram, crediting all of their success with the sustainability initiative to Munchkin. The caption said: "It started with an orange tabby kitten from Missouri. It ended in redesigning packaging for over 500 Munchkin cups!"