Organic butchers, bakers and winegrowers: how Britain fell in love with the subscription box

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If, like me, you were burnt by a Graze Box ‘trial’ that kept getting delivered to your student apartment long after you moved out, or had the unexpected pleasure of discovering a fridge full of celery rotten when your Abel & Cole-loving roommate went on vacation (remember that?), you know subscription boxes have been a growing trend in Britain for a few years now.

But, thanks to a year of panic buying, half-hour queues for Big Tesco, and three nationwide closures (with non-essential stores shutting down), more than ever we are turning to retailers. subscription services as a kind of cheat mode to keep our lives going. Companies like Oddbox, Naked Wines, Bloom & Wild, Pact Coffee and Dollar Shave Club have become household names as we searched for alternative ways to meet a range of needs, from everyday essentials to ethical alternatives to gift giving. lockdown birthday and luxury treats.

According to a Deloitte study, 47% of UK households now have at least one subscription service, following significant adoption during the pandemic. The Professional Services Network, which started tracking subscription trends last year, also found that 16% of 25-34 year olds are enrolled in three or more programs.

Meg, 30, is one of those subscription enthusiasts. The Londoner has experimented with several serves over the past year, particularly during the first lockdown as she lived with a vulnerable friend and sought to minimize errands.

“I organized a subscription to Lily’s Kitchen cat food and Who Gives a Crap toilet paper?” ” she explains. “We tried Beer52 for a while and got down to jogging, so I got a Huel membership to use in post-workout breakfast smoothies. We ran out of milk and bread very quickly between runs, so I found something called Milk & More, which looks like an old-fashioned neighborhood milkman and delivered every other morning.

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Meg also arranged a fortnightly bake delivery to her mother, who lives alone in Brighton and is extremely vulnerable clinically: ‘I wanted to send her something tangible while she was protecting herself and we couldn’t to be physically together. “

Meg’s experiences reflect Deloitte’s findings on changes in consumer behavior. “It is clear that the pandemic and the restrictions it has placed on mobility have seen consumers expand the net in terms of brands and the channels through which they are ready to shop,” said Ben Perkins, head of consumer knowledge.

“When you combine that with people spending more time online and on social media [media] and the ease with which new subscription-based startups were able to get online and sell direct to consumers, it created the perfect environment for these brands to thrive. “

One such start-up that has thrived over the past year is Shop Cuvée, a natural wine subscription service founded in March of last year by the team behind the neighborhood restaurant in North London. Top Cuvée.

“When the pandemic hit, we obviously had to close the restaurant, so the first thing was just to start selling the stock we had so we could pay our suppliers,” says co-founder Brodie Meah. “It was very popular with the locals, so we made a website to make it easy to click and collect orders, and it immediately exploded as the timing was perfect, nothing really was happening and everyone was just at home spending time on the internet. We introduced monthly subscriptions pretty quickly, which have been absolutely massive and continue to grow. “

Meah suggests several reasons why alcohol subscriptions, in particular, have flourished over the past year, becoming the third most popular genre after Amazon Prime and grocery delivery services, according to Deloitte research. “It’s convenient: people know they’re going to drink at least two bottles a month and it’s automated so they don’t have to think about it,” she says.

“People may find wine a little intimidating but still want to drink something good,” she continues, adding that the service is “organized by experts” and provides “an experience” for people unable to go to. the bars.



People may find wine a little intimidating but still want to drink something good.

Brodie Meah

The success of many subscription boxes like Shop Cuvée, Beer Hawk or Craft Gin Club probably owes a lot to the closing of bars and restaurants as people try to replicate the hospitality experiences at home. However, other services cater to previously empty corners of the market or simply make it easier for people to make ethical choices.

For example, the direct-selling brand Wild aims to eliminate single-use plastic and unnecessary chemicals from everyday personal care products. The business was relaunched last year at the start of the first lockdown with a range of natural deodorants sold in compostable refill cartridges that pass through UK letterboxes.

Despite a 20% drop in deodorant sales during the pandemic (as well as a similar drop in shampoo sales …

Co-founder Freddy Ward attributes this in part to the brand’s ethics focused on sustainability. “When you go to the supermarket and look at the big brands available, the options are still very plastic dominated,” he says. “I think every brand will be a brand of sustainability to some extent over the next few years, but smaller ones like ours are usually able to go faster.”

In addition to responding more quickly to changing consumer values, subscription brands often offer personalization, which is not available through traditional channels or directly on supermarket shelves. Take tails.com, a dog food company with tailor-made subscriptions that take into account your pet’s age, breed and activity level, among other factors. As CEO and co-founder James Davidson says, “We know who our customers are and are able to customize products for them.”

Right now, the thrill of a parcel keeps many of us going all day. But, once the lockdown is over and we can wander around our local mall again and meet our friends in the bars, are we going to keep our subscription box habit?



The pandemic was the ‘sudden’ time for subscription businesses

Professor Steven van Belleghem

Professor Steven van Belleghem, consumer experience expert and author of The offer you can’t refuse, believes subscription models are here to stay. “The subscription economy has been around for almost 10 years now, and it kept growing until the pandemic struck,” he explains. “In the same way that the iPhone suddenly accelerated the smartphone market, the pandemic has been the ‘sudden’ time for subscription businesses. Many companies recognize this and change their business model to create more community of subscribers. “

Meah and the Shop Cuvée team are already planning more physical stores, although he says subscriptions will always be key to their operation, with store staff eventually taking care of subscription administration.

“Just being a retail store now isn’t enough,” he says. “I think [subscriptions] will change the way the main street works. It’s only a matter of time before all local businesses start offering subscriptions.

Now that the country has fallen in love with convenience, life on “repeat order” may be here to stay.


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