Sampling firm Bulu Box uses vast trove of data to help cricket protein start-up

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sampling firm Bulu Box uses vast trove of data to help cricket protein start-up
Before a new food comes to market, the idea of that new food must be planted and pruned. How to fashion that idea so that it has the best chance of success? That’s were the data machine of Bulu Box comes in.

The Lincoln, NE-based company, co-founded in 2012 by Paul Jarrett, has built a business on a sampling model in which subscribers get a new array of products every month.  And it is starting to use the data collected in the process to help other companies craft their product launches. 

The company recently announced a data partnership with fellow Lincoln-based start-up BugEater Labs, which is planning to launch a cricket protein meal replacement.

Sampling model

Here’s how Bulu Box’s model works: Consumers sign up for a subscription for $10/month. For that price, the company mails out a ‘Bulu Box’ that contains several samples of high-quality healthy foods, supplements and personal care products, something akin to a wine-of-the-month club. And there’s an element of discovery; you don’t know what’s in the box until you open it, allowing customers to try products they might never have otherwise. 

The company has experienced rapid growth​, Jarrett said.

Bulu Box

“Our first five days of January were bigger than December and December was our biggest month to date,”​ Jarrett told FoodNavigator-USA.

Data store

Jarrett says he founded his company with his wife, Stephanie, to offer a better, more targeted model for product sampling​ than what he calls the “spray and pray”​ model that is common in the food arena.  And in so doing, the company has built up a valuable stock of capital in data.

“When we originally built our website and platform, we built it in such a way that we were collecting data at every touch point with our consumers.  A lot of brands say they are collecting data but they don’t really understand what that means,”​ Jarrett said.

“With Bulu Box we contracted a team of 80 data scientists that helps us make sense of all the data we are getting. We actually have a real time dashboard that our partners can log into with a drag and drop editor.

“For example, we can compare a customer from Oregon who’s female and 22 years old with a customer in the South who’s 30 years old and see what their purchasing habits were in the month of September,”​ Jarrett said.

Knowing what plays well

BugEater Labs grew from a student project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  The four co-founders came up with an idea for a product they called Jump! Cricket Protein Meal Replacement. The startup allied itself with Bulu Box (where the co-founders also have ties to UNL) in order to use its data model to avoid some of the pitfalls that startups often encounter.

“We can use all of our data to make decision based off of that. The BugEater Labs founders had two big challenges. First, they are not very familiar with the industry, and they are coming out with a product that is potentially very polarizing. They had some basic questions such as, should they tell people up front that it’s cricket protein, or just list it on the ingredient deck?”​ Jarrett said.

“We have sampled with hundreds of different brands so we have a pretty firm grasp of what appeals and what doesn’t appeal. We can help determine what flavors appeal to people, and what the dosage of protein should be,”​ he said.

Cheaper approach

Jarrett said mining the data his company has collected over the last few years can help companies avoid costly mistakes. The model his company has crafted yields better information and is vastly cheaper than competing approaches, he said.

“The value of our company after three years is actually all the data we have collected. I just got done talking with a brand that spent  $52 milion to launch a product.  They spent about $30 million on focus groups and advertising.  Why not do some targeted sampling and make sure it’s a home run?  That’s really where our company is at,”​ he said.

“What we are doing now is we are looking for partners that are looking for a different way instead of the archaic vitamin and supplement industry way of buying a ton of an an ingredient at a bulk price and then trying to jam it down people’s throats,”​ Jarrett said.

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