Well Made

Ep. 108 Culling Through the Clutter with Emily Schildt

February 5, 2020 · RSS · Apple Podcasts

The grocery store model hasn’t adapted with how people shop. Traditional big box stores stock up on everything under the sun and rely on small margins based for big cart sizes. With traditional grocery stores struggling and US consumers being slow to adopt online grocery, Emily Schildt saw an opportunity to prioritize discovery over convenience as a way to help people find brands they actually love.

Pop-up Grocer is a highly curated 30-day activation featuring grocery brands that get an A+ for innovation, nutrition, and design. Emily has thoughtfully positioned Pop-Up Grocer to be an exciting space that leaves people wanting more. Just ahead of their Venice launch on February 7, she is sharing the careful balance between curation and discovery, the importance of location, and the paths envisions for Pop-Up Grocer in the future.

“I really believe in a strong sense of urgency being necessary for anyone to want to do anything in our generation.”

 Culling Through the Clutter
 Culling Through the Clutter

We start with the pop-up model and Emily explains why it's pivotal that the store only stick around for 30 days (5:00) She shares more about how the pay-to-play model works for brands that want to be featured (8:43) and the challenge of distilling a brand's message into a must-have selling point (12:35). Emily explains what's wrong with the current grocery store model and what it means to be a sexy store instead (17:40).

Curation is a huge part of the Pop-up business model. Emily dives into the importance of health and aesthetics for younger shoppers and the future she sees for community events (25:33). She envisions two paths that Pop-up could go down and lets us in on which way she's leaning. She does a deep dive into the criteria behind the brands that get selected for Pop-up shelves (37:50) and talks us through trends she noticed from her time running her brand consultancy, Sourdough.


Stephan Ango: You're listening to Well Made, a podcast from Lumi about the people and ideas behind your favorite online brands. I'm your host Stephanie Ango. Emily, welcome to the show.

Emily Schildt: Hey, thanks for having me.

Stephan: So you're the founder of Pop-up Grocer. You describe it on your website as a traveling popup grocery store, showcasing hundreds of products from the most innovative and exciting natural food brands today. This made me think of, do you know who Marshall McLuhan is? He's like a philosopher. He coined the phrase the medium is the message. But he also coined a phrase called the global village, which was back in the 1960s way ahead of its time. Now we have the internet and the global village is real, which is, anyone can start a brand and start selling to a worldwide audience, set up your ecommerce store. And he described this idea not just for physical goods but also for ideas. And we have that with social media. Like anyone can just go online and say something and then someone on the other side of the world can get that idea. And I was wondering what is the global grocery store as we move more of everything to this global village? When you think about grocery and food in that context, what do you think about?

Emily: Yeah, I mean I think that's a really a fair point about our times. It's easier than ever to start a brand, which is a wonderful thing and it makes it that much more difficult. Every category, not just in grocery but particularly in grocery is over-saturated. You know, we're living in an age of too much stuff. So the way I see pop-up grocer is like an edit. It's a way to call through the clutter and help people narrow their selection to just the items that they should really be paying attention to or at least expose those new and interesting ones that in a traditional retail setting you would just completely overlook just by nature of the environment and there being so many items grabbing for your attention. So yeah, so that's definitely one of the reasons why we created this traveling showcase was I think by necessity.

Stephan: That's a great point. When we did an episode recently with Elizabeth Segran who is a writer at Fast Company. And we were reviewing some of our predictions that we had made for the past few years and where we thought those would go in the future. And one of the predictions that I had made four or five years ago was around technology being an enabler to break down barriers. And I think that has turned out to be true, but it has created another barrier, which is there's just more noise than ever before. It's so much easier to start, but it creates more noise. And one of the other ideas that we had thrown out there as a counterbalancing was that the idea of discovery and curation and how do you counterbalance that increase in the amount of noise and find the things that are really working for people or maybe matchmaking better. How do you find the right thing for the right person? And so when you think about that with Pop-up Grocer, what comes to mind? Is it more of finding the right match for the right person or is it more elevating the ones that are the best?

Emily: It's both. I mean, we have a very specific consumer, at least today who comes through our doors. They're highly educated. They're very conscious about the food decisions that they're making for themselves, for their families. You know, they have a pretty high food IQ. They are less price conscious. They're more willing and understanding of wanting to pay for products that are going to benefit their health and their wellbeing. We are presenting ourselves in urban environments currently. So you know, these are major metropolitan areas of the country. So our products are certainly a match for that person. But yeah, but I mean generally we are elevating these brands that we are sharing and presenting them overall with the products that we think that they should be buying. That's in our opinion, in my opinion, in my very subjective opinion. Yeah.

Stephan: So your first location was in New York or is it still going on at Neighborhood Goods? Is that correct? Or where was the first one?

Emily: So we've had two and a half stores in New York. So we've had two in our isolated storefronts, one in April and one in September of this past year. And then the 0.5 is our activation in Neighborhood Goods. It's just 20 brands where our standalone stores represent between 150 and 175. So it's much smaller. But yeah, we are inside Neighborhood Goods, which for anyone who's unfamiliar with Neighborhood Goods is similar to us. Like a modern retail concept that showcases a number of interesting brands inside their space and rotates them out.

Stephan: Yeah, Matt Alexander, the founder has been on the podcast twice actually. First for his first company before Neighborhood Goods. So you can see the evolution of his thought process. It was pretty interesting. And now you're opening a new one here in Los Angeles in like a week or something from one when we're recording.

Emily: Right. Just a week from Friday.

Stephan: How are you feeling about that? Is it smooth sailing from here or is it still so many little details to prep?

Emily: Yeah, I mean, I'm a pretty chill person, so generally I'll tell you that things are kind of smooth sailing, but it is probably the craziest of the crazy times in this business. Our build-out is just about between five and seven days, really about four or five. And the remainder is merchandising and processing inventory. So it's very fast and that all, yeah, that all will happen here in just a couple of days.

Stephan: And when you say pop-up, how long do you usually go for?

Emily: Yeah, I mean, we're really in the true spirit of a pop up. Our first store was 10 days long, which was nuts. And actually my original idea was to have this be for three days at a time, which is insane. But we do about 30 days at a time currently in any given city.

Stephan: And why is up the right model for this, in your opinion?

Emily: Is it the right model?

Stephan: I don't know. I'm asking. It's one model.

Emily: That's what we're hypothesizing. Yeah. I really believe in a strong sense of urgency being necessary for anyone to want to do anything of our generation. And that's proven to be true so far in that about a third of our traffic happens on the first and last weekend. Yeah. I think if we were around much longer, it would be this thing that you want to do and you'll do at some point and you just keep putting it on the back burner and then you never really get there. I mean, that's my own personal experience.

Stephan: But it must create so much more other kinds of work that you wouldn't have to do. Like you have to move all this stuff. You have to find a location, you have to negotiate the deals with the people. That must add a lot of work.

Emily: Yeah. It's not the easier way for sure. Yeah. Because I mean we're building what otherwise feels like a permanent store in a five day, seven day period and then breaking it all down 30 days later.

Stephan: What's your pitch to the brands or how does that conversation go? What are they looking for out of this?

Emily: So I'm a marketer. I've been in brand marketing for the entirety of my career, so that's how I approached us and they definitely had a desire as a consumer for a different grocery shopping experience. That was like the secondary consideration. The idea really came from my understanding that as you were saying, there's so much opportunity now for brands to exist and it's a much lower barrier to entry for them. But then once they create these amazing products, they develop beautiful packaging and it's like, alright, let's get this out in the world. That experience is not fun. To be a D2C brand, the cost of acquiring a customer digitally is just increasingly very expensive. And then at retail you're one of 50 other brands, one skew among hundreds, and it's very difficult to be noticed just by someone passing by the shelf. So I wanted to create an environment in which these brands could have the exposure and visibility that they deserve because I really believed in the products that I was working with, the ones that I was exposed to as a result of my work. So, that's the pitch really to these brands is that it is a pay to play model, you know, their advertising. So they partner with us and pay us a showcase fee to participate. And in return we actually generate the traffic and the quality traffic of people that they want to learn of their existence. And that includes largely consumers but also media influencers, buyers, investors. In the meantime they also get to sell stuff and learn from what flavors are selling better than others or, yeah, just generally in comparison to what other products their consumer is interested in. We know what else is in their basket. So there's a lot of data that results from the shop experience as well.

Stephan: When I was browsing the different companies that you're featuring. A couple have been on the podcast, like Brightland, the olive oil, Magic Spoon with the cereal. First of all, is there like a tasting kind of component to this? Like can people try and sample the different products?

Emily: Yes.

Stephan: Is that a big piece?

Emily: It's not a huge piece. I struggle with sampling a little bit and maybe that's too much about me personally and whether or not I enjoy sampling. I always feel like sampling is something that's being pushed on me and the environment that we're trying to create is really about trust and discovery overall. So we want to leave people alone as much as they want to be left alone. We want to give them the option. We're very educated. If you want to ask us questions about anything on shelf, like we can go into great detail about it. But also we give you a magazine that has that information inside so you can read about it independently if you'd like. And I feel the same way about samples, like in a grocery store setting. It kind of cheapens the experience for me. And depending on the person sampling, how aggressive they are, it can lead me to feel one way or another. So we do it, but we do it in a discreet way that doesn't feel like it's being forced upon you.

Stephan: I think through your experiences a brand marketer. I think the story telling aspect of it is really important. How do you train your staff and the team on knowing all of the information about all the products and the brands care exactly what wording you use. How do you get that dialed in?

Emily: Yeah. Some care more than others. Some are more complicated than others. For example, in the LA store we have honeycomb. It's individual servings of honeycomb. You know, the concept, the benefits of why one would eat honeycomb versus honey or you know, what's propolis. These are all things that are much more demanding of explaining than yogurt. So, we definitely give emphasis to those that are just requiring that but overall the training is pretty intensive to make sure that our staff knows each of the 150 plus brands, but also the 400 plus products.

Stephan: What does that mean intensive?

Emily: It's a lot of reading. It's a lot of us than summarizing. You know, we have to really drill down to the core, the two or three sentences that they're arguably going to be able to remember and regurgitate because otherwise in such a short period of time, it's far too overwhelming. You know, we're not going to be a store that's going to be around for four months or years where they have the time to get familiar with the details. They have to do it in a very limited period of time.

Stephan: Do you find the brands are usually self-aware, good at giving you the one to two sentence version or do you really have to edit what they're saying and turn it into something that you can explain?

Emily: You definitely have to edit it, which is where my experience comes into play because every brand thinks every aspect is of the most importance. And yeah, it requires us to opine and break that down a little bit.

Stephan: What are the tips that you have from your experience doing all of this about distilling what it is that you're selling?

Emily: I think it comes down to prioritizing. You can certainly tell the story of every facet of your brand but it's a matter of time and place and cultural relevance from a dietary standpoint, specific to food, like what aspects of your product do people care about right now and how can we infiltrate that conversation? I think it's not a matter of like cut and say goodbye, but just rather structuring that and organizing it in a way that makes sense from a time perspective.

Stephan: One thing that I'm curious about from a storytelling standpoint an analogy I'll give is we had Zahir Dossa from Function of Beauty. I don't know if you're familiar with their company. They make shampoos that are completely customized and so you can go on their website and customize this whole shampoo like exactly with your style of hair and all your preferences and you can even choose the color, but then when you receive it, the bottle only just says Function of Beauty on it and it's very minimalistic. The packaging is super simple and so you couldn't do that at retail, right? Because there's so many layers of first, the story of why they're doing it in a customized fashion, like they have a whole spiel about that that you can discover on their website and then the product ultimately when you receive it is not trying to explain anything because you've already gone through that educational process through the website and that's something that I think a lot of direct to consumer brands can benefit from because the packaging can now become something that's not about explaining anything. It's not about nutritional facts, it's not about storytelling, it's just about a container that is, you know, maybe more permanent and more attractive or something that you want to put on a shelf. For example, a lot of companies are doing that in different verticals. I wonder is that possible in the food world? I think Bright Land is a good example of that, but is it translating as much, especially for brands that have to do multichannel and have to coexist both online and offline or have you seen any patterns there?

Emily: It's hard. I mean definitely the D2C brands that launch in our store at retail for the first time have a lot of learning around the failures really of their packaging in that setting. And then the decision becomes how do they make those adjustments because it's hard to have one thing satisfy both environments. So if you adjust your packaging for retail where it can do a lot of that heavy lifting for you and explaining who you are and the aspects of your product, then it might not be as beautiful or straightforward or simple or streamlined for the D2C settings. So yeah, it is a challenge to find the balance there or the solution that fits both.

Stephan: I wonder if being at Pop-up Grocer though allows me as a brand to kind of sidestep that or do you find that because in that setting you're leaving people alone to explore. You want them to be able to touch and feel things and read things or if I'm a brand who's more focused on the D2C model, can you be that person who takes the place of the website to explain that stuff?

Emily: Yeah, we can, but people have to utilize us. Like I said, I mean I'm still learning because I'm new to retail and watching people has been so fascinating to me. But by and large, I would say the majority of people just don't want to be bothered. Again, we have a magazine and they can read it in store and use it as a guide or they can read it when they get home. And that's one way to satisfy both their independent shopping desire while still getting the information that they want. But also people shop with their phones. You know, that's something interesting to watch too and I do that same thing, is that people will be going along "aisles" and Googling the products as they go.

Stephan: That's interesting.

Emily: Yeah. So I also think that they're price comparing which, yeah, is another interesting thing to watch, and making that decision as to whether it's something they should buy in our store or later on at home.

Stephan: When you look at models that have existed for a while or companies that have been in the retail or grocery landscape for a long time, what are the ideas that you keep? What are the things that you think are good that you want to maintain or examples of companies that you think do a good job?

Emily: Of grocery stores?

Stephan: Sure.

Emily: Yeah. I mean, I have a difficult time with grocery stores as businesses. I mean, they make their money off very small margins. They're like 1% to 3% which means that they make their money through volume. They have to sell a lot of stuff and they're counting on you having a massive cart as opposed to our tiny baskets and coming back on a very regular basis. If they can't make money through that alone a lot of them now have very sophisticated prepared food sections with much higher margins. They also are trying out new things like restaurants in-store. They're very challenged. That's what creates this unfortunate shopping experience where everything is just very crowded and cluttered and it feels quite overwhelming. You know, boutique grocery stores as a concept just can't really make any money because if you have a very limited supply and again, you have a basket versus a cart, you know, and the average cart size is like $13 or whatever, you're not going to be able to make enough money to cover your rent and your other operative costs. So, I don't know if that really answers your question, but I guess when someone asks me if there's something that I look to that I'm like, Ooh, yes, this is aspirationally what I want to be. Not really, which is why part of the reason why I created Pop-up Grocer. We need a solution from a business perspective to this system.

Stephan: I mean I think where my head goes is like three different things. One is you know, what can we retain from like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, like they have thought through some of these things and Trader Joe's has a kind of a little bit more emphasis on their own brands I guess. And so maybe it's a little bit more vertically integrated. I don't know what their margins are, but they have definitely done a lot on the training and educational side of the company and I don't know if that's something that you've researched or are curious about. The other thing is just like farmer's markets where farmer's markets feel in some ways a little bit more discovery oriented where you're going there and maybe you have a couple of things you know you want to buy, but you're also exploring and there's sampling happening and it is a little bit of a different experience. And then there's like Supreme, outside of the grocery realm but when I think about companies that have done a good job getting people to come out to a place for a temporary amount of time and like creating energy around what they're doing, they've been successful obviously. So those were kind of like the things that come to mind and I don't know if any of those resonate in any way.

Emily: I mean we were called the Supreme of grocery stores, which was like the pinnacle of my career. I was like, alright, I'm done. That's great. Yeah, because we got to make similarly like the drop, you know, of the latest and greatest. It's in food and beverage, it's not in cool as sneakers, but yeah. It's a similar model.

Stephan: I think it can be as cool as sneakers. Yeah. Farmer's market is also an interesting model and I don't know if you've thought about that. I think the difference there is like you have these individual stalls, it's like a mini department store, but it's very personal, right? You might develop a relationship with the person who sells blueberries or whatever, and you get to understand the story of those blueberries so much more than in a grocery store.

Emily: Yeah. I think that's the heart of it though, is that you actually are having these direct intimate interactions with the farmers, with the makers themselves. And there are a lot of models similar to that for packaged goods. There are a lot of these like artisan maker fairs, trade shows. There's something very special about the farmer's market and the representation of the farmers.

Stephan: It's not very scalable inherently.

Emily: Yeah. Also that. Yeah. So yeah. So I mean actually when we're pitching participation to these brands, a lot of them, because we're new, as a concept, they don't really know what to envision. And so I think they do picture them being there personally, having a booth, passing out samples, having these conversations with the people who are visiting. And that is one thing that people have been successful in creating, but I didn't want to create that space. I wanted it to be a sexy store.

Stephan: Gotcha. Wait, dig into that a little bit more. What do you mean by a sexy store?

Emily: I mean, our store is designed forward. I mean, it feels like a grocery store enough so that it's recognizably so we have shelves, we have food products, obviously we have refrigerators, we have freezers, but we also have a living room. We have a communal table where you can sit and chill and maybe meet up with someone. We integrate a local restaurant with fresh pastries and baked goods and coffee offering. You know, we have really like hip music now that I called it hip, it's absolutely not. But we have really like hip music playing. Sometimes it's bumping, you know, we have this magazine, it's light, it's bright, it's colorful. We sell merch. Our t-shirt is a top selling item in the store. So we had some socks too. I was also really proud of creating. One says crunchy and one says creamy on the back.

Stephan: Are they brown? What color are they?

Emily: They're white. But yeah, it's an obvious peanut butter reference. So yeah, I think, you know, those decisions are very intentional and I wanted it to feel like a place that's cool. And that's worth talking about and sharing. I mean, our model is reliant upon word of mouth. That's how we generate enough traffic in such a short period of time. So we do have to create a space that is remarkable.

Stephan: Do you think there's something generational about that? We talk a lot about Millennials and Gen Z and that kind of stuff. What do you think from that point of view are generation and younger generations are looking for that the older models from an experience standpoint are not providing?

Emily: Well, I think when you look at grocery specifically, health food was novel for a long time. So the Whole Foods experience, for example, felt somewhat special because it has this very natural feel to it. And that was comforting because healthy products were new and not as easily accessible. Now, thank God they are much more widely accessible, still not everywhere to the extent to which they need to be of course, but by and large as a country, we're demanding better food products. And companies even the big companies, have changed their ways to deliver those. So it's sort of the foundation now. And thus the space for a grocery store that becomes novel is one that doesn't feel natural, that feels modern. That feels more like a clothing store or the aspiration is no longer natural.

Stephan: What I'm hearing it's the expectation more so for younger consumers that the products are going to be natural and healthy and these kinds of things. So it opens up a different kind of in-store design that can not focus on that aspect, but make it an assumption or something like that?

Emily: They can move beyond that, yes. That's much better articulated. Yes. There was this-- She must've been 15. There was a 14 or 15 year old that came into our store in New York and she was so excited about it. She was just gushing to her mom, who she was with about how it was her favorite place and can we please come back and I'm just standing there like, Oh my God, this is amazing. But as she was leaving, she also remarked that it was so aesthetically pleasing and I just chuckled to myself because I was like, I don't think I even learned the word aesthetics until like four years ago when I had to for my job. But aesthetics is something that is so ingrained and so important in younger generations. Having grown up with Instagram and all of these visual meetings and having a personal brand and caring about content and appearance to such a degree, the look and feel of a store, even for where you buy your food is more important or should be treated with more importance than ever had to before.

Stephan: It could sound shallow in certain ways, but there's an aspect to curation that is about organizing the chaos. That's a service that can be provided. And we've talked a lot about Amazon on this show and how the experience of using Amazon online has degraded so much because it's the opposite of curation. It has so many things, even for the same one product that you might be searching for that might be incredibly specific. You're returned hundreds or thousands of results and it's very overwhelming. And so part of aesthetically pleasing is also that aspect of limiting what's there and choosing the right products and giving them the room to breathe. And so it's not just a shallow thing. It can be something that has actually provides a lot of value.

Emily: Yeah, absolutely. There was this piece in the times about the growth of D2C brands. You know, starting with the Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker. Yeah, it was a great article, but they quoted, I'm going to totally get the numbers wrong, but they quoted the growth of sales for small to medium sized companies on Amazon in the last 10 years, going from 160 million, 270 billion. So there's insane appetite to buy from these companies on Amazon, yet it's not an enjoyable experience to do so. So it's very challenging to discover them. So I think what our space does is introduces you to these brands and then you can go directly search for them on Amazon. I can't compete with Amazon in a number of ways, you know, price and convenience being the two biggest ones. So I'm fine with that if I lose those sales. Because we're in service to these brands in introducing them where then they can be purchased on Amazon later.

Stephan: It might be too early to say, but is there an aspiration to have a community that sort of exists all the time of people who want to go to Pop-up Grocer and then when it's there they can go to it. And it's coming back to their city or it's going in different neighborhoods or how do you think about kind of maintaining your community or your frequent shoppers even though you're moving around all the time?

Emily: Yeah, I mean community is definitely a big aspect of what we're building within our 30 day duration. We have between 10 and 15 what we call after hours events that happen mostly in the evenings after we've closed, but in LA we'll start doing some morning events too, like going on a hike. I feel pretty strongly as somewhat extreme as this may sound that a grocery store can be a foundational organization in your life. Like we used to have organized religion or tight knit families or neighborhoods, villages. We've completely lost a sense of belonging and now we're looking for it in SoulCycle and wherever else.

Stephan: Well, I agree with this, but at the same time you're not there permanently, so people need groceries every day. And you're there part of the time. So to me you're more like a band or something like that that comes to my town and if they're coming to my town, I got to see them. That's a little bit different than a place that's there always as a kind of background layer that is an institution in my community. So I guess my question is how do you keep the community going when you're not there?

Emily: It's a good question. I don't know.

Stephan: It's maybe an aspiration or something. How do you think you would do it or how should it be done in the long term? What are your ideas around it?

Emily: Point in which we are right now in the business, I'm thinking a lot about what we look like when we grow up and where we go from here as far as 2021, 2022. I see two paths, you know, we can continue to pop up and combine that with ecommerce. So at least from a purchasing standpoint, there's an opportunity to continue to engage with us once we've left your city. And I really like that model. And there's another option which would be to have a brick and mortar long term leases and just rotate our selection within. I think in that model the community aspect is much stronger because we could run these events and more importantly just have a more intimate relationship with our visitors on a regular basis, consistent basis. But I think there are ways in which we can facilitate that digitally.

Stephan: I was really resonating with the point you were making about creating that time pressure for people and getting people to get out of their apartment and come to the place. And if you have that two week window or one month window, it kind of forces you to take action. It's an interesting balance and maybe you just have to try the two and see what works better. But I don't think there's been a lot of experimentation around that. And if you keep the concept of a musical artist as an analogy, people are still fans year round they're not not a fan. Even if that artist is not in their town. And then is there a way for them to talk to each other or be engaged online or some other form or format or place for them to talk about what's going on?

Emily: I mean, people are heartbroken when they learn that we quite literally mean we are at popup and will be gone in 20 days and they're like, oh, I want you to be around forever. And I so immediately in that moment want me to adjust my business model and be like, okay, yes. Oh my God, you love us? I just created this thing. I had no idea anyone would even like it. And now you're begging us to stay.

Stephan: Leave them wanting more. That's the classic thing.

Emily: I kind of think that they love us because we won't be around.

Stephan: That's a very powerful thing.

Emily: Yeah, I think so too. Yeah. I mean, right. My shoe in dating, you know, and it's like the one who won't stick around is the one that I want.

Stephan: I am not a student of the Supreme school of business, I don't actually know a ton about how they've done what they've done. You probably know way more than I do about it, but they seem to kind of have a good cadence for a while where it's happening enough that it feels like it's there but it's not in a specific place. And so there might be something there that is still to explore in the realm of grocery where it's just, I mean in a way a farmer's market going back to that idea is that, but it has like the reliable thing that I know it's going to be there on Saturday, but it still has a time pressure because it's only there on Saturday.

Emily: Totally. And for a few hours. Yeah. You know, right now with our resources and team as it is, we're able to do a store every three to four months. Hopefully we can increase that frequency and maybe we'll find there's reason to extend duration in some cities more so than others or decrease. I mean, this is the time for us to experiment and really learn from each activation. But I'm really excited about going to cities, you know, so far we've been in New York where to your point, yes, we are offering a service and that we're narrowing the selection from what is very readily available to everyone in that city. But there's tons of access. Anything you want you can get, there are so many cities in this country I think would just be elated to have us and we could perhaps be more successful as a result because we're so much more in demand where they just don't have that access except online.

Stephan: And the brands probably are not as active or don't exactly know how to interact with those communities as well. And so that's a different kind of value that you can provide. When you think about helping the brands kind of understand their consumers more, where does technology fit into that? Because there's been a lot, in terms of what Amazon has been doing with all their automated store technologies. There's stuff that's more off the shelf. Like Beacons and things like that. Is that something that you're thinking about or like in terms of providing data back to the brands?

Emily: Data in my limited experience so far is very expensive. So today I'm not investing in a very sophisticated infrastructure. However, I do think that is a valuable offering of ours that we could continue to grow and evolve not just for the brands but for others who might be interested in understanding what the most popular products are in any given market, what trends we're seeing overall. People could be interested in that from product development standpoint. So it's a TBD.

Stephan: TBD, okay, yeah. It's interesting. I don't know where Amazon is at in terms of expanding what they're doing, but understanding what people pick up off of the shelf or how much time someone spends investigating a product or making a decision seems like all kinds of, in this era now where we have that all for the online world and all the brands that sell things direct to consumer are studying those patterns and trying to understand, okay, how long are people spending on this page versus that page, what's the version of that in the physical world? And is that something that you see becoming more valuable over time?

Emily: I mean, in my opinion, and maybe I'll regret saying this so strongly, but I think the idea of Amazon creating stores is just absurd. It's just not what we need from them. Like what we need is the compliment. I know it was a very convenient theory for me as this is what we've created, but like what we need is the compliment to Amazon is the anti Amazon experience. Their stores lack personality, lack heart, especially when it comes to food. Like they're such intimate purchases, there's such an inherent amount of trust that has to be there. Something that you're going to put in your body that you're going to absorb and ingest. There's no confidence generated by that sterile Amazon store environment.

Stephan: Yeah, there's definitely not the same kind of heart and soul for sure. You're never going to find that. When you interact with the people behind all of these products, are there things that you're seeing in terms of the kinds of values that they are trying to promote in the world that either you're seeing as a trend and it's emerging among all of the different brands or that you're trying to, in your curation of the things that you sell, trying to promote in any way?

Emily: We have three criteria for us selecting products. The first of which is, is it new and interesting? Is there an innovative aspect? Is there an aspect of creativity? The second is about nutritional standards. And then the third is about appearance. Does it look good on shelf? So the first criteria leads us to having a lot of plant based health products just because that's where the majority of innovation is happening. So I guess by default that's something that we are promoting. Really I would say we promote individual choice and eaters of all kinds and we're not making a real stance apart from supporting creativity and innovation. And we do put that through a lens of nutritional requirements, but we are not anyone one way specifically.

Stephan: Yeah. When we talked to Magic Spoon, now I'm forgetting the name, but they were one of the first brands to be using this new kind of sugar.

Emily: Allulose. Yeah.

Stephan: That was approved recently. And I was asking whether we were going to see a boom of brands that are using that. Are there things like that that you're seeing that come in waves or things that happen and what is new right now? What's going on?

Emily: Yeah. Definitely sugar is of high consideration for our shoppers and thus for us, and thus for the brands and thus for us. So yes, we're seeing a lot of innovative sweeteners like Allulose, Monk Fruit. We're also seeing high fat, like keto is a very popular diet right now. And I just watched the fat documentary myself, which I'm really late to the game. But I'm sure it's funded by Keto Inc. You know, I always watch those things with a little bit of an understanding of that, but fascinating nonetheless. Yeah, so a lot of high healthy fat foods, low in sugar are definitely prevalent on shelf, vegetable alternatives to comfort foods. So like pasta made from cauliflower or pasta made from chickpeas, pasta made from lentils, 78% of our products roughly are vegan. We're by and large vegetarian, so yeah, I mean I think our curation is reflective of the interests of consumers.

Stephan: Going back to the global village concept, is there an aspect of local food that you think about? Is there anything about whether it's the ingredients or the people who are in that city that you take into consideration? In terms of the products that you're promoting or selling?

Emily: We localize this store in terms of the design a bit to be reflective of the neighborhood even that we're in within a city. By nature of working with small brands who have such limited resources, we work probably with a majority local brands in each city because the cost of participation is lower for them as they can hand deliver. They feel like it's more valuable if they can be there in person and be a bit more involved. But we are not specifically local product focused. In fact, I would say we're aiming for our products to be highly discoverable, very, very new and local products are something that you're more than likely familiar with is they've already been well distributed in your area. So our aim is actually to bring things from the outside with the hope that then they can be localized.

Stephan: This may be like something that is that Jason did not necessarily relate it to what you're doing, but in the UK I know that they're one of the highest adopters of online grocery shopping. I think 35% of consumers buy their groceries online over there.

Emily: Which would be insane, if that's true. The US is 3%.

Stephan: Yeah. And the US is I mean overall we're at I think around 12% to 15% of online adoption across the board, but grocery is actually one of the lowest categories of any and I wonder what you see there why is it that there's such a discrepancy? Why is it that in the US even if you take the UK out of the equation, but just look at the difference between buying any other product than food, why is there such a discrepancy between what people buy online and what people buy in retail, in the physical world?

Emily: Yeah, I mean, grocery in the US I think it's 3% of all grocery sales are on our online and then it's projected to be between 10% and 15% in the next like 10 or 15 years. Whereas apparel's already at like over a third. So it's very slow growth and 85% of people are still visiting their grocery store once a week. So there's obviously a desire and that's apparent in these projections. And just in the overall growth of online global retail, but it's not the reality. I mean there's the cost aspect, like buying groceries online right now is just expensive and I think that can deter a lot of people. And I think there's a lot of skepticism around delivery and cold things remaining cold and frozen things remaining frozen and your poultry being as fresh it would be as it would be if you bought it from the butcher. But I think really about trust and discovery. And I think, you know, even in talking to people in the store, that's how they explain it to us, that they don't buy online because they just don't trust where it's coming from. And I think that trust is something that just naturally comes from human interaction with a more tangible experience. And then there's the discovery piece. I mean, especially when you're talking about buying food where it's much more expensive. There's nothing that feels special or worthwhile about paying that extra money unless there's a bonus of someone explaining to you why you should, because it's higher quality ingredients, which costs more money. Because there's this amazing founder story behind it, there's more of a willingness when you have a bit more of an engaging in person experience. And I think it's also just a habit. You know, people are used to going to the grocery store and making that haul and it's going to be hard to break that habit.

Stephan: Yeah. If I had to guess the differences between the US and the UK there's also a big aspect of the way that the cities are organized. We have much lower density here in the US in terms of how sprawling cities are. And you mentioned price consciousness is so high for everyone who's buying groceries. It makes it so much harder to be able to deliver these fresh products to people in a timely manner. I think that that's gotta be a big component. And I think in the UK they have a lot more of a slightly monopolistic situation with Tesco being one of the biggest grocery stores there. And so for better or worse, I think that has created a stronger distribution network there that makes it easier for everyone to have access to their local Tesco can deliver to their home. And so they can do that. And I think that's what Amazon wanted to do with Whole Foods, but the footprint is still relatively minimal. I don't know how many Whole Food locations there are, but it's definitely not enough to cover everyone and their prices are higher. So I think it's an area that a lot of people are thinking about. I'm definitely not an expert in that area, but I think, you know, the Krogers and all those different you know, Albertsons type of companies are trying to figure that piece out. But that's why I was saying maybe adjacent to what you're doing. Because you're in the world of discovery. You think of what you're doing as you said at the beginning more almost like advertising that it's just a different world altogether.

Emily: Yeah. I mean, and we're showcasing specialty items. I think ordering online, ordering your groceries online seems like a no brainer to me if you already know what you want. I also don't know what the distinction is there culturally between here in the UK, but people don't know what to eat. People have no idea what to eat. So they don't know what to buy and they need help. They need someone to tell them what to buy.

Stephan: I want to talk about sourdough, which is your branding or what did you call it?

Emily: Sourdough.

Stephan: No, but is it a branding or positioning kind of that was the company. Are you still running that also? Are you doing both at the same time?

Emily: No, I'm all grocery empire now.

Stephan: We touched on this a little bit, you were working with a lot of companies there and I would love for you to share. We have a lot of people who work in brands listening and I think you are totally right about them often struggling about their positioning, about their approach to telling the world what they do. I wonder if we could spend, as we wrap up a few minutes talking about that and some of the lessons you learned or some of the things that you felt particularly proud over successful with in your time as a brand consultant.

Emily: I never feel successful as a person, so it'll be a tough question for me. I've worked exclusively with food and beverage companies. I think that's fair to say. There's probably been like one tech startup and fashion outlier, but almost exclusively working in the food and beverage space. So I think, like I said before, by and large what I've noticed is those brands want to talk about the integrity of their ingredients, the benefits of their product, touts gluten-free, non-GMO, organic. And those aren't distinguishing factors anymore. Going back to that like comm's hierarchy, the prioritization of messaging, they're still important. But the concept of brand is really much more new in the food and beverage space than it is in other sectors.

Stephan: Who do you think is particularly successful at doing this and what is it in their messaging that they say. Let's be practical with some example.

Emily: You take a brand like Recess and for anyone unfamiliar to sparkling water with hemp extract, they've really positioned this world of Recess, which is about calm and you know, taking time for yourself and relaxing. And that's all with the understanding of culturally where we are right now and being overworked and overstressed and over anxious. And so, yes, it is a beverage, but it's like a beverage as one solution to this sort of universal problem of the generation.

Stephan: It's a mood.

Emily: It's a mood. Yeah. Good. I'm using words like hip over here.

Stephan: I'm just saying, well, Recess is a mood in itself and the name of the brand and it's like trying to create a mood. It's saying here's the mood that you should be in. I'm just bouncing off of what you were saying.

Emily: 100%.

Stephan: Recess is a specific mood. When I think about recess as a child.

Emily: Which is somewhat different than what recess has created, because it's not so much about play. Yeah. But yeah, I mean that's just that's one example. I think you could look at a brand like Sweetgreen who I would say is more closely about product. But you know, they started early on with this music festival that was really successful. And I think their marketing overall has helped to communicate that they're about creativity and that comes through in their ingredients and in their spaces. They're always a first mover as far as technology and recreating a fast casual space and what that can look like and what sort of services that can provide. And I think that's why they're so aspirational is that they relate while also always striving and that's what they understand their consumer wants as well.

Stephan: You were working with Chobani for a little bit. What have they done? I think around three years ago, I guess they rebranded and that was such a successful thing that they did with their new logo and design. And we've seen so many brands kind of take that concept and either rip it off or run with something very similar. What do you think they did well?

Emily: I mean, I was there so many moons ago when they were just a small company. So I'm not that familiar with the rebrand intimately, although I think it's beautiful. And what I love about Chobani is I really do feel like it was a first mover in creating a brand in the food space. You know, they weren't first to market with yogurt by any means. They weren't even first to market with Greek yogurt. Faya had existed for quite some time and is a really amazing product, but what they did was bring in this story of their founder who is a Turkish immigrant and created this company with no investment and grew it very quickly, grew faster than like Facebook and Twitter combined in the time that I was there. And it was a mass product made with quality ingredients. It proved that that could be done at a price point that large majority of America could still afford. But from a communication perspective, there was just so much heart. And you know, we used to answer every single customer service message that came through. I created and ran the social media team, and even in times of crisis, like a recall we were highly attentive to every single inquiry that came through. And I think there was a real attachment and affection for the brand that then when they wanted to just lift off and scale exponentially like every Walmart in the country. They already had the foundation of that amazing brand with which to do that so that they could maintain that and as they grew to be as big as they are today.

Stephan: Cool. Well Emily, I want to send people to the location in Los Angeles. Where is it going to be? Literally.

Emily: So we will be at 62 Windward Ave. in Venice, just right down by the beach from February 7th through March 1st and we'll be open from 10:00 to 7:00 every day.

Stephan: That's awesome. And if people are in New York in the same time, will New York still be open during that time or no?

Emily: We don't have a standalone pop up shop open in New York, but we are inside Neighborhood Goods with about 20 brands and we will be there through April, something.

Stephan: If you're listening to this and it's not April, definitely go there, Chelsea market.

Emily: And maybe longer but definitely through April.

Stephan: That's awesome. Is there anything else you want to point people to?

Emily: With the LA store we will be launching an online marketplace, so if you want to check out our brands and not just peruse who they are but actually buy things from them, you can do that on popupgrocer.co. No more com's.

Stephan: The Instagram is also really cool. We should send people there and we'll put some links in the show notes, but that's another way for more discovery to happen.

Emily: Yeah, totally. I mean even if you're just a curious person about innovation in the food and beverage space, we're always posting about the latest and greatest, so definitely give us a follow.

Stephan: Well thank you and best of luck with everything. I want to check in a year or two and see where things are in the popup empire.

Emily: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

Stephan: Oh, one last thing before we go. I'm talking to you at home. What's your favorite brand these days? Is there something that you think is really well made or maybe someone that you love for me to talk to? Send us a tweet. We are on @lumi Twitter. We're making this show for you, so tell us what you want to hear and we'll make it happen. Thanks. See you next time.


You can find this and all future episodes on iTunes, Google Play, and here on the Lumi blog. This episode was edited by Evan Goodchild.

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