Private-brand products have become an essential offering for grocery, mass, and club-store retailers. Nielsen estimates that total private-label sales for 2016 amounted to $150 billion. Their success comes from their competitive pricing, high quality, and product and packaging innovation versus national brands, all of which drive sales and consumer loyalty.
Taking a page from brick-and-mortar, e-commerce companies in the grocery and household essentials space have begun launching their own private brands for the same reasons. Among them, Amazon, with its Happy Belly snacking range, Mama Bear baby food and diapers, Wickedly Prime snack line, and Amazon Elements vitamin and supplement products; Boxed’s Prince & Spring line, which includes household, personal care, food, and other items; and Thrive Market’s natural food and household products line.
In fall 2017, Walmart-owned Jet.com—one of the fastest-growing e-commerce companies in the U.S.—unveiled its “carefully curated” Uniquely J line of 50 SKUs, comprising coffee, cleaning, laundry, pantry, paper, and food storage products. The target demographic: the Urban Millennial.
As Camilla Crane, Director of Strategy at Elmwood—the brand design consultancy involved in the project—explains, there were several strategic considerations behind Walmart’s choice of the Urban Millennial. First, because Walmart is so strong with the more suburban or “driving” cities in the U.S., “it made sense to add something unique to their offering versus directly competitive.” Another was that Jet.com felt the group’s unique needs were not being fully addressed by other online retailers, offering a clear opportunity.
Among Urban Millennials’ distinct needs, thoughtfully and boldly met by Uniquely J, are:
- Convenience, as modes of transportation are significantly different in dense urban areas.
- Great prices, without the need to sacrifice on the experience or quality.
- Aesthetics and storytelling. Having limited storage space, the urban dweller appreciates products that can be displayed on a counter or shelf.
Jet.com also kept this demographics’ desire for eco- and socially-conscious products in mind, offering cleaning products with plant-based ingredients, USDA Certified organic and Fair Trade Certified coffee beans, and BPA-free plastics for food storage bags.
Said Jet.com President Lisa Landsman at the time of the launch, “We’re excited to introduce Uniquely J to consumers, confident they’ll embrace the products and soon begin to consider them essential to their day-to-day shopping. Uniquely J is not just Jet.com’s entry into the private-label brands space, it also furthers our efforts to serve the metropolitan consumer with a select assortment of premium products while also offering them a great shopping experience.”
One of Jet.com’s primary considerations in building the brand was packaging—both the functional and aesthetic aspects. “There are many special packaging considerations to take into account for items sold via e-commerce,” says Laura Kind, Brand Director, Uniquely J, Jet.com. “These include, but are not limited to, glass versus plastic, structural integrity of boxes, and fluids that do not leak. An example of a choice we made was to use high-quality plastic for our [cooking] oil range rather than glass.”
Upon receiving Jet.com’s design brief in fall 2016, Elmwood saw three big opportunities, according to Ben Greengrass, Creative Director. First was to define a unique and exciting approach to online private brand that made shopping fun. Second was to spark a more emotional connection and drive an immediate purchase desire through packaging. And third, to consider the full consumer experience. “Consumer expectations around private label have changed dramatically,” says Greengrass. “We needed to build a brand, not a private label—something distinct that consumers could proudly display in their homes and share with their communities.”
The resulting package designs are unexpected, wildly unique and fun, counter-worthy, and endlessly social media-sharable. Says Greengrass, “Without the constraints of the physical retail shelf, this brand had the opportunity to leverage design and communicate completely differently in the purely e-commerce environment.”
For each product line, an artist was chosen to bring a unique perspective. For example, packaging graphics for the Uniquely J line of coffee capsules and ground and whole bean coffee were done by illustrator Iain Macarthur. Says Elmwood Head of Client Partnerships Nulty White, “We had collaborated in the past and knew his style would set the category alight.
“For coffee, we wanted to create something with a ‘rebellious’ attitude. In the design, there is a real provenance story, so aside from an attitudinal centerpiece illustration that connects firmly with the product—a Sumatran tiger, a Peruvian jaguar, a Columbian bear, and a French bulldog—a more subtle story is told in the more subliminal parts of the illustration. Region-specific plants, flowers, and traditional patterned textiles all add to each rich, visual story.”
Storytelling is also central to the packaging graphics for Jet.com’s storage/trash bags. For example, freezer bag packaging depicts arctic animals, frozen products, or “frosty” lingo, while trash bags get “a major infusion of trash talk” says White. Packaging for this category was designed by artist Cohen Gun, known for his icon style.
Pricing for Uniquely J’s products is competitive, while reflecting the quality of the items. Uniquely J’s 54-ct single-cup coffee, priced at under $20, comes to 37 cents per cup, while its Uniquely J Bamboo Cedar Sport Laundry Detergent 2X Strength, yielding 33 loads and costing $9.99, comes to 20 cents per ounce.