The brainchild of founder and CEO Jessica Young - who cut her teeth at the fast-growing direct to consumer brand Daily Harvest as director of product and operations – BUBBLE is similar to Thrive Market in that it offers a curated selection of natural and organic products (with a strict set of criteria including no refined sugars), but there is no membership fee, and it doesn’t hold any inventory, operating a drop shipment model and taking a commission on each sale.
“I launched BUBBLE because I felt there was a really big gap in the market for all these amazing innovative brands that were trying to go direct to consumer,” Young told FoodNavigator-USA.
“It’s very expensive to acquire customers and get them to come back and very hard to get customers to enter their credit card information for a single food product, however good it is.
“I wanted to make something as simple as possible for brands who make something amazing to turn on a new revenue channel, especially small to mid-tier brands that have local or regional but not national distribution.”
‘We’ve had a 10x increase in inbound inquiries over the past month’
With retailers delaying some shelf resets, demos out of the equation for now, trade shows such as Expo West canceled and consumers not in the mood for browsing at stores, it’s not a great time for onboarding new brands, with many startups and emerging brands looking for new ways to reach consumers online, said Young.
“We’ve had a 10x increase in inbound inquiries over the past month, including a lot of brands who were planning to have their big launch at Expo West. Some of the people we've been speaking to couldn't get buyer meetings until October, and Amazon won't let them on right now. We’ve also had a lot of inquiries from bigger brands that see the volume increases we’re seeing on our site, and want to work with us now.”
Consumers, in turn, are changing their behavior on the site, she added. “Pre-COVID, people were buying snacks and supplements; typically four or five ‘cool items’ that they couldn’t buy locally. When COVID hit, our average order value skyrocketed, our repeat rate went up and we saw huge growth in pantry items like gluten-free pasta and sauces and beans.
“We've also brought in new customers; a lot of it is word of mouth… the email newsletter is also being shared as we have tracking on that, plus we have a robust influencer channel so there’s no one place it’s coming from," added Young, who is currently in the middle of a seed round.
While raising money in the middle of a pandemic is far from ideal, BUBBLE is "on fire" right now, which makes the pitch more compelling, she said.
Automated shipment platform: I wanted to make something as simple as possible for brands
When orders come in, BUBBLE’s automated shipment platform (which syncs with Shopify and ShipStation) alerts vendors with orders and creates pre-paid shipping labels (it partners with Stripe and TransferWise for vendors to receive payments as orders come through). All vendors need to do is fulfill orders and use BUBBLE branded tape to seal packages.
While this means that customers ordering 10 items could get 10 separate deliveries if they are all from different vendors, there is still only one transaction on BUBBLE, and the shopping experience for the consumer is seamless, Young told FoodNavigator-USA:
“It’s not like Etsy where you’re checking out separately for every product and you’re only entering your information once.”
However, she added, “With our top moving products we are going to be bringing some of them in and shipping them out together.”
Perishables coming soon
Launched in early 2019 with a few hundred products, BUBBLE now features more than 1,000 products from pantry staples to snacks, drinks and supplements, and is gearing up to launch a suite of perishable items including meat and seafood and produce, said Young, who says GenZ and Millennial shoppers dominate her email and social contact lists.
“Just before Covid-19 hit we were scheduled to close our seed round and launch the perishables, so when you hit BUBBLE in the next few weeks you’ll be promoted to enter your zipcode and [if you’re in an area where these products are available for shipping] you’ll be able to order these fresh products from local farms in your area - it's about 80 new brands and 500 SKUs.”
While BUBBLE is bringing on a lot of new brands, products that don't sell for an extended period of time are delisted, and BUBBLE wasn't designed to be an endless virtual shelf, but a curated selection of products with a particular emphasis on dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, keto, paleo, and flexitarian, she said.
It's also laser-focused on food and supplements, said Young: "We're always getting asked about this, but we're focused on brands that are all about building a better food system; we're not getting into fashion and beauty."
Exposure for partner brands
In an effort to spotlight independent food brands on its virtual shelves, BUBBLE works with vendors to produce marketing assets including videos and lifestyle photography and has a network of influencers – the ‘BUBBLE Squad’ - including supermodel Karlie Kloss and NBA Star Miles Plumlee (who are also BUBBLE investors). It also has options for showcasing brands on email newsletters and is exploring new ways to help partner brands reach consumers, said Young.
“We can also do dedicated emails, have banner ads on our website, and feature brands on Instagram."