Disruptor of the Year: Brandless
July 11, 2017
Brandless burst on the scene in a blaze of national media attention with 110 products and a mission to bring high quality goods to an underserved customer base.
The company’s mission of eliminating the "brand tax" with a direct-to-consumer model, modern aesthetic and unique product offerings is putting established brands on notice.
Brandless has already nearly doubled its merchandise assortment and expanded into new categories with plans for 300 items by the end of 2017.
Brandless burst onto the retail scene this July in a media whirlwind. With 110 products — all sporting simple clean labels with simple clean ingredients — Brandless looked like a store brand, without the store. And that was pretty much the point.
"Brandless is 100% a brand — it is just re-imagining what it means to be one," Tina Sharkey, co-founder and CEO of Brandless, told Retail Dive in an interview.
Every item is priced at $3 and benefits from the elimination of what Sharkey calls the "brand tax" — the markup products get as they go from manufacturer to retailer to consumer — by going direct to the consumer. That amounts to a 40% savings that Brandless claims to pass along to the customer. Sure, it's not a new concept — Warby Parker, Harry's and Dollar Shave Club, and Casper mattress all got there first. But Brandless has upped the ante and set the bar even higher when it comes to delivering a curated assortment of on-trend product in an accessible way.
Brandless checks a lot of boxes.
First and foremost, Brandless is a direct-to-consumer product that communicates its "brand tax" savings to customers. It boasts a clean private-label aesthetic with simple, attractive packaging. Check. Brandless items are organic, "free from" and good for you — check, check, check. Gluten-free? Vegan? Check and check again.
There's even a membership program called B.more. For a $36 annual fee, members get free shipping with a minimum order. The company charges a flat $5 shipping fee for non-members.
Is Brandless socially responsible? Check again — the company partners with Feeding America and donates a meal to needy families for every purchase made. It donates two meals for every purchase made by B.more members and ran a special promotion through mid-November giving 10 meals for Feeding America's disaster relief efforts. Brandless is savvy on social media as well, having acquired close to 50,000 Instagram followers in just a few short months.
The company has expanded from 110 products at launch to 215 this fall — and expectations are for Brandless to have 300 items in its assortment by year-end, Sharkey said. Brandless delivers to 48 states, up from its more limited range at launch, and recently expanded into beauty. In all, Brandless offers an assortment in food, household, beauty, personal care, home office and health.
Brandless is delivering products with a level of quality and modernity of ingredients that are rarely available outside of major metropolitan areas — and delivering it directly to the doorsteps of middle America where access to such items is limited at best, let alone at a reasonable price.
"We were one of the first, if not the first, brand made that is based on a community of people who care about what they eat, who want access to all the better things but at a price that's affordable to everyone," said Sharkey. "[We have] a bigger community directive that everyone deserves more and are trying to debunk that better should cost more."
Here, too, Brandless isn't the first company to do this. Thrive Market found these secondary markets to be so underserved that when funding proved elusive from venture capitalists on the coasts, housewives in the Midwest and deep South helped fund the startup to secure access to healthier items for their families. According to Sharkey, Brandless didn't have any problem with financial backers — it raised $50 million before it launched — but it delivers to those same underserved markets.
Brandless might not be the first to combine all these things into a single brand story, but at a time when private-label products are growing fast, the company is a perfect storm — if you will — of retail disruption.
Could Brandless products turn up on the shelves of national retailers? Not likely, said Sharkey. She envisions her company's products on the shelves of Brandless' own store someday.
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