DIP 005: Return of the milkman

PLUS: Casper's sleep aids, making the digital tangible, and Story time at Macy's

👋 Hi. If you’re new to Chips + Dips, welcome. I’m happy (and anxious and overwhelmed) to have you. Shout out to Lean Luxe for blowing up the spot. My hope is that this newsletter will spark conversation, so hit reply and type away if you have questions, comments, or additional thoughts about anything you read here.

The Chips 🛀

The Dip 🛎

With farmers markets turning greener and the quality of produce at Whole Foods on a steady decline, I’ve been thinking a lot about grocery store pain points and possible solutions…

Whole Foods 965

That’s how many days elapsed between the opening of Whole Foods’ first 365 concept store (May 25, 2016) and the announcement that it would be ceasing expansion of the lower-cost, millennial-targeted supermarket (January 14, 2019).

From the get-go, the 365 concept struck me as misguided. There was nothing (except cost, if you’re parsing pennies) that differentiated 365 from normal Whole Foods stores. Or normal supermarkets, period. If Whole Foods was looking to cater to a younger, urban audience, it should have looked at how a younger, urban audience cooks and eats. Think: all-in-one and plug-and-play meal kits, a more expansive pay-by-weight section (fresh herbs, included), and more local, small-batch products.

And then there’s the convenience-oriented store adjacent to the Whole Foods in Chelsea. While that store does spotlight local producers, it’s still not doing anything new. It dedicates more real estate to the prepared food section that comes standard in all Whole Foods markets, but how is that different from Pret, or any other grab-and-go option?

Grocery Shopping, But Make It Fun

A handful of health-focused, 7-Eleven-like concepts have cropped up recently. There’s Bubble, Clean Market, and The Goods Mart. They all position themselves as “clean” and “natural” and “healthy” — as convenient as your corner bodega, but with more virtuous offerings.

On the flip side is Pop-Up Grocer, which set up shop for 10 days and sold many of the same products as the aforementioned stores, but without any of the moralization. Pop-Up Grocer stocked “natural food brands” with no mention of diets, detoxes, or guilt-free alternatives. That difference in positioning made it more effective, more approachable, and more enjoyable.

Pop-Up Grocer became a playground for discovery. It was simple and inviting, with products worth picking up and labels worth reading. It was worth going to, mostly because you didn’t know what you would find.

A 21st Century Milkman

Packaging has the potential to change a product’s perceived utility. Take human-grade dog food company Ollie’s recent update, for example. Its new packaging uses less plastic, takes up less space, and requires less frequent deliveries. That revamp was the subject of a recent episode of Lumi’s Made Well podcast, in which Ollie’s exploration into a milkman-inspired delivery model was revealed.

The mention came a couple of months after Loop, a project by TerraCycle, was announced at Davos. Loop is a partnership with mega-corporations like Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, and Unilever wherein products like Häagen-Dazs ice cream and Dove deodorant are packaged in durable, reusable stainless steel containers.

Empties are picked up when new containers are delivered, and get washed, refilled, and delivered again. It’s labor-intensive, yes, but can likely be integrated into last-mile delivery solutions.

The most obvious benefit to Loop is that it’s more sustainable. But more importantly, and perhaps less obvious, is that it works to support brand loyalty and habit formation.

And in a space as crowded and noisy as the grocery store, isn’t there something delightfully simple and old-fashioned about establishing an ongoing relationship with a producer?

Still Hungry?

Real Dip 💾

Bon Appetit’s Green Sauce No. 4. While I don’t know what sauces 1–3 are, I do know that this recipe’s long list of ingredients is well worth the (negligible) effort. It’s bright and citrusy, with full-bodied umami notes thanks to miso and tahini. It plays well with ramen noodles (the good kind), sturdy tortilla chips, and crudités.

(Yes, this is technically a sauce. But it moonlights as a dip and you can definitely have it with chips. Make it, eat it, thank me later.)

Thanks for snacking.

— Emily 🦁