Ryan Lupberger is an ingredients guy. Like many consumers these days, he closely examines the labels on food and shampoo, limiting his purchases to what’s good for his health as well as the environment. It’s a habit that can be tough to practice with cleaning products, which, unlike food and cosmetics (including shampoo, but not soap), are not required by the Federal Drug Administration to list ingredients on the label. Brands like Mrs. Meyer’s and Method (both owned by multinational household cleaning manufacturer S.C. Johnson ) promise sustainable products with nontoxic chemicals, but Lupberger, who also has an eye for design, knew he could do better. “The issue was they always used plastic packaging,” Lupberger tells Forbes. “It’s ironic that the ‘better for the world’ brands use so much plastic.”
Lupberger along with former college classmate Zachary Bedrosian embarked on four years of research and development which resulted in the formula and packaging behind natural cleaning brand Cleancult. Offering a full range of home cleaning products, including laundry detergent, handsoap, dish soap and sprays packaged in cartons and reusable, shatterproof glass containers, Cleancult launched as a subscriber-based direct-to-consumer web company in 2019. With the help of Matthew Brenner, who led retail launches for Method and Babyganic, the company branched into retail stores like CVS in 2020. The niche brand is on track to be in more than 5,000 retail locations over the next three months.
Cleancult continues to expand and on Tuesday, the New York-based company announced a $25 million Series B raise. “We thought the space they were tackling, focusing on the anti-plastic movement and cleaner ingredients, was something that was really interesting,” says Steven Himmel, a partner at Vanterra Capital which participated in the raise. Himmel was introduced to the company through an existing portfolio company — always a good sign, he tells Forbes — and was the first institutional investor in the company in 2018. “On the actual business side, they’ve gotten into some nice retail accounts and they have seen some nice traction online as well.” Other investors include Reynolds Channel, Anchor Capital, Box Group, and Maywic Capital in addition to Kevin Hart’s firm Hartbeat Ventures and Rachel Zoe Ventures.
Consumers start by buying reusable glass containers and periodically buy refills. Cleancult’s product line is based on its patented coconut-based cleaning formula, but Lupberger says its biggest strength is the packaging. The company’s milk carton refill containers are recyclable and are a similar size to other commercially sold cleaners, making them a more natural choice to carry in stores as opposed to many laundry and soap companies in the $112 billion direct-to-consumer industry, that sell refills in vials or in powder packages, Lupberger points out. “It’s just not that challenging to ship a small concentrate online, but retailers really are where we stand out,” Lupberger says. “We are one of the only zero-waste brands on a store shelf.” This market is key, he says, because the vast majority of consumers buy home and personal cleaning products in person.
Cleancult’s latest funding round is targeted toward staffing up research and design, with an eye toward expanding into soap-adjacent areas like bathroom cleaners, Lupberger says. The company also plays an active part in the U.S. Plastics Pact, which aims in part to effectively recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging by 2025, the same year Cleancult plans to have its products on the shelves in 30,000 stores. The next stage for Cleancult, Lupberger explains, is getting it right with every retail partner, whether it’s Whole Foods or CVS. “Our goal is to compete with the best brands out there,” he says. You don’t have to sacrifice price or ease of shopping. In three to five years, we want to prove that it is possible to take on the leading incumbents.”