His basket held generic food and drink, nonbrand items in plain white packages with simple labeling. There was a white can labeled CANNED PEACHES. There was a white package of bacon without a plastic window for viewing a representative slice. A jar of roasted nuts had a white wrapper bearing the words ... “This is the new austerity,” Murray said. “Flavorless packaging. It appeals to me. I feel I’m not only saving money but contributing to some kind of spiritual consensus. It’s like World War III. Everything is white. They’ll take our bright colors away and use them in the war effort.”
—Don DeLillo, White Noise
It’s not a “war effort,” but there’s something to be said for fighting back against excessive packaging and marketing when you just need some granola or pasta sauce.
Which is where generic, in-store brands have filled in the shopping gaps over the years. At their best (Whole Foods, Trader Joes), generic brands deliver the same product — perhaps even a healthier or higher-quality one — for less money.
Brandless hopes to replicate that idea on a national scale. The company has a simple selling point: get all your everyday kitchen and everyday staples for $3 ... which they can do by eliminating what they call the “BrandTax.” (Though, to be fair, Brandless is trademarked and thus a brand. Or maybe it’s irony.)
Not saying the packaging on Brandless is bad. It’s all pretty straightforward, with big lettering and solid colors. It recalls Whole Foods’ in-store brand, 365 (with a similar promise to keep things as healthy and Earth-friendly as possible).
Just launched this week, Brandless hails from Tina Sharkey (iVillage, AOL, BabyCenter) and Ido Leffler (Yoobi, Yes To, Cheeky) and it already has $50 million in funding. So it’s not going anywhere.
Brandless (8 images)
We were able to test out a few products a week before launch. Our initial thoughts, below:
What it costs: “Don’t bother comparing prices. It’s all $3.” Truth in advertising!
What it costs (fine print): Shipping isn’t included. If you become a Prime-like B.More member ($36/year), you’re eligible for free shipping at $48 ($72 if not). Bulk orders are good.
What you’ll get: At launch, the company has 200 products in food, household supplies, beauty, personal care, home/office and health, with a preference toward non-GMO, organic, fair trade, kosher, gluten free and no-added sugar (categories which you can filter by).
What works (and doesn’t): We only tried the food, but the tomato basil pasta sauce was a winner. The granola was tasty but extremely sugary and calorie-packed. The coffee pods for our Nespresso were a slightly odd fit but delivered a nice, strong blend. The few other things (beans, gummy candy, etc.) were all at least on par with a good supermarket brand.
Who Brandless is competing against: Jet (for prices). Whole Foods (for healthy takes on everyday food). Amazon Prime (for prices and subscriptions). Our collective need to package and consume happiness.
Who it’s great for: Offices. Large families. Long-range planners. Competent, basic-level home chefs. The passive philanthropist (a meal is donated to Feeding America for every order placed).
Best critique on Product Hunt: “Its [sic] like a hipster dollar store inspired by Ikea.”
Worst critique on Product Hunt: “Paying for shipping is 2000-and-late.”
Who should avoid: City dwellers without a lot of kitchen storage (you’ll be ordering a lot at once). Serious chefs and those into fresh food. People who didn’t laugh at Repo Man’s running gag about consumerism.