Bulu Box is a Lincoln, NE-based company that uses a focused sampling strategy to help brands discover how their products perform with customers. The company ships curated boxes containing 5 to 10 products each month to a dedicated cadre of as many as 75,000 customers who engage on social media about their experiences with the products. The company also has a linked transaction portal, which is the only place the products being sampled can be purchased, so it can generate real time data on the likelihood of a customer purchasing a product after trying it. The result of the program has been a wealth of data, which is now becoming the company’s most valuable asset.
That experience gives Jarrett a unique lens through which to view the show. He has a data-informed gut feeling on what innovations are going to work with customers, and which ones likely won’t.
“Our team physically covered the whole show. We had one person at least glance or look at every booth there. I don’t know how many other people did that,” Jarrett said.
Me-toos fill the aisles
While there is no disputing that there are always a raft of new launches at the show, Jarrett said he’s less sure of how many new ideas he saw.
“There are a lot of followers and a lot of options for things that already existed. For example, there was artisanal popcorn. Now there’s organic popcorn and non GMO popcorn,” Jarrett said.
“I don’t that’s necessarily a good or bad thing. But what I would say to people is that if they had sampled with us and we had pinged their data off of what sells is that this can become overwhelming for consumers.”
Another major theme Jarrett observed at the show was the trend toward offering products in additional packaging forms in an effort to reach consumers who say convenience is at the top of their list. Stick packs, sachets and blister packs are a common way to try to reach this on-the-go segment, but from Jarrett’s point of view, brands could be mistaking the trees for the forest.
“The issue is portability. It’s great to give people the option of having packets, but what they are really asking for is for the manufacturer to make their product portable. The customer doesn’t want another packaging option per se,” Jarrett said.
“I try to teach the manufacturers of things like drink mixes or protein products how to make their products portable. Maybe with a big tub you can offer a mixing bottle to go with it. Before you spend a lot of money on a new package and delivery system, we tell people to sample it first to see if that’s what people really want,” he said.
Magnesium is hot
On the supplements side, Jarrett said he saw an uptick in offerings containing magnesium and melatonin. Magnesium, an essential mineral, features in bone health formulations and is mentioned in connection to benefits in metabolic health. As such, it could be well placed to benefit from an aging population more interested in health aging products. Recent data has shown that magnesium is poised to pass calcium as the best selling mineral by 2020, and Jarrett said that trend was born out in his experience at the show.
“We have seen that magnesium is getting more and more popular,” he said.
Jarrett said he also saw an increase in new melatonin offerings, which means that energy product manufacturers might be missing an opportunity.
“We see natural sleep aids increasing in popularity,” Jarrett said. “Our society runs on caffeine. If I were a producer of any sort of caffeine product I would really consider creating a sister relaxation or sleep product to go with that. I think companies offering natural products based on things like yerba mate would have an opportunity to offer a natural relaxation product alongside.”