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Kate Bould
Communications Manager @ Yotpo
April 29th, 2020

Q&A with Jessica Young, Founder & CEO of BUBBLE

I spoke to Jessica Young, Founder and CEO of BUBBLE, about her journey, the impact of COVID-19, and what’s next for BUBBLE.

Table Of Contents

Tell us about who you are and how you started BUBBLE.

After being in the Health & Wellness industry for many years, I saw a gap in the market: brands were going to market and innovating (specifically in the health foods space), but they didn’t have the right platform to launch and scale on.

It was becoming harder and harder for these brands to get onto Whole Foods since the Amazon acquisition. I saw an opportunity to launch something similar to what Farfetch has done in fashion and Chewy has done in the pet food space: create and curate a marketplace for these innovative, truly clean, truly healthy food labels. Given my background in the food space, both on the product and operations side, I brought all of that experience into what is now BUBBLE.

We have a few thousand products and over 180 brands shipping nationally. We also started our own label last year, which we’re working on expanding and launching more products through.

I went to cooking school in the middle of college. I wanted to do something different and learn a new skill. My friend at NYU had an open room, so I attended cooking school, moved in with my childhood friend, and never looked back.

I ended up fully moving to New York and fell in love with the food scene. I felt like that’s where I needed to be, so I followed my gut instinct. I did a lot of private cheffing, cooking in fine dining restaurants, and was starting to burn out in the restaurant scene. I didn’t see myself in the back of a kitchen for my entire career, so I started thinking about the next move.

I got an opportunity at Hu Kitchen to join their founding team, curating third-party products and leading the pastry program. It didn’t end up franchising, but we’d set things up to scale, to repeat, and to cover the country. I loved that part of putting a business together and of having my hands in product development.

Then, some of the investors there started talking about a meal kit company and asked if I would be interested in it. At that point, Hu Kitchen had been set up, so I jumped ship and went to a meal kit company called Ritual, leading operations and working with the carrier networks. Unfortunately, that company went up-and-under pretty quickly. They got funded but didn’t have a growth plan in place. I learned that you could have a great product, a great brand, and a great team but if you don’t know how to grow the company, it’ll just sit there.

From there, I was introduced to Rachel Drori, who was looking to start Daily Harvest over a bag of frozen mango and spinach at her kitchen table, and the rest is history. I was the first employee at Daily Harvest. We both wanted to create a company that was scalable. For us, scale wasn’t about making a ton of money. It was about making a difference in people’s eating habits, behavior, and in the greater food system.

I realized at that time that my mission was to create better alternatives and get people in touch with them. I eventually left Daily Harvest to build BUBBLE, a culmination of everything I’ve worked on in my career all rolled up into one. We make our own products and put people in touch with them, while shedding true transparency on the food system and creating our own world within food.

It’s been a journey for sure — it’s a lot of following my gut. Between 2016 and 2018 the online grocery space doubled and that’s when the true adoption of online grocery shopping really began. It’s when Daily Harvest started to take off and we saw that reflected in the numbers. The projections in the market are for this landscape to increase 40% year over year, which are awesome annual growth rates.

In this era, everyone’s forced to shop online. People are looking for good delivery programs, and we’re seeing crazy spikes on BUBBLE. I think this trend is actually going to pull that growth rate up and online grocery shopping will become more of a consideration.

What comes next for the Health and Wellness space?

Health food can be a lot of different things. If you go way back to the 1950s, Kelloggs had a sanatorium in the midwest where he was all about plant-based diet, trying all of these crazy techniques — which is eventually where corn flakes came from. Back then, they knew that cholesterol was an issue and cooking with lard wasn’t always super healthy. Then you moved into the 80s and 90s, where the trend was focused on low fat and diet sodas became a big fad.

I think what we’ve seen in the past 5-10 years, and part of why we called ourselves BUBBLE, is true transparency around food. It’s what we’re all about and want to see more of in this space. People always ask us if we ever see companies like Pepsi or Nestle on BUBBLE, I think it’s going to be very apparent to these bigger players that consumers are looking for well-sourced, responsible, and clean label foods. It’ll only take time till they recognize this shift, take action, make the right changes, and be a part of this world we’re building!

In the past 3-5 years, there has been a huge wave of functionality, meaning a new emphasis on how much you can get out of your food. Does it have adaptogens? How can this thing help me respond to stressors in my life? At Daily Harvest, we designed smoothies with additives for that functional element of food and saw a lot of success.

Now, the biggest wave we’re seeing, and I think why we resonate as a company with our consumers, is that people are paying more attention to their food. It’s almost become the new Gucci bag. Who thought people would ever care where their Rancho Gordo beans came from? It’s about showing off your food and really knowing where it came from.

I think that’s why fine dining places, like French Laundry, are now a destination, which you wouldn’t have seen before this 3-5 year period. Food has become more elevated with a larger focus on what the ingredients are, where they came from, and the people behind them. People are showing it off — they want to be associated with a label and a community.

Now, it’s not as much about low fat or what this product can do for me in terms of functionality, but more about how this food can help you live a holistic lifestyle within a holistic community.

What’s it like being a businesswoman in this space?

All three industries that I’ve worked in, like being a chef, in operations, or a founder, are not traditionally female-focused. Whether it’s in a warehouse in the Midwest and they’re talking to me like their daughter, or going up against companies like Whole Foods and Amazon (now the same company, which is crazy), I’ve always been in roles where it’s male-dominated. That said, I think a lot of my past experiences prepared me for what I’m dealing with now.

I’ll have direct conversations with people asking who runs the company or whose company it is and I have to say, “Well, it’s my company.’ It’s definitely interesting to be in food distribution and pushing those boundaries as a woman.

On the flipside, 65% of the brands on BUBBLE are female-founded, which speaks to this new guard of food. When you’re shopping on BUBBLE, you’re shopping predominantly through female-founded brands.

There are a lot of women pushing boundaries on the cutting edge of health food. They’re genuinely interested, seeing holes, and finding solutions. There are so many different stories about how women are coming into those roles, starting food companies on their days off or while they’re on maternity leave.

How has the impact of COVID-19 affected your customers’ behavior?

A few weeks ago, we saw an initial surge in orders. Everyone was at home, wanting to stock up, and our average order value went through the roof, which we’re still seeing.

We also saw a major shift towards pantry goods items. Items on our site that were not moving and had been put on the backburner, have since been moving off the shelves like crazy. Things like beans and pasta and pantry staples, even cases of beverages, which have never been a top seller for us, are moving out.

Our goal is to move into the everyday grocery space as quickly as humanly possible. It’s been in development and testing for the past 6 months — we’re testing it out by shipping seafood, dairy, non-dairy, perishables, and produce in boxes. You won’t be able to buy a sprig of parsley, you’ll be buying whole boxes from farms, vegetable kits, and more like that.

With people now using BUBBLE for everyday grocery needs, it’s allowed us to launch the rest of our grocery and everyday items with more clarity. When we launched, people associated us with a hype health food spot with trendy new things, so it’s exciting to see that shift on the customer side.

What steps are you taking to retain existing and new customers?

We’ve tested this a lot over the past couple of weeks and what we’re doing is cutting down on paid advertising and funding free shipping on orders over $50. It’s something we can support and it’s converting like crazy. We know a lot of the orders coming in are already over $50, so we’re just encouraging that purchase. It’s big for a small business. Not every business is Amazon and can turn on Prime. To be able to support that is something we’ve been leaning into and it’s been going really well for us.

What’s next for BUBBLE as we move through the crisis and beyond it?

We really listen to our customers: since day one, they’ve been asking for a BUBBLE app.

An app for food is great, because it’s kind of like a TV remote. You have everything at your fingertips, all you have to do is just click “Buy,” and you can put items on a subscription more easily. When we published our app at Daily Harvest, it was a great tool for people to manage their subscriptions. It really cut down on customer experience issues.

Our customer behavior is shifting every day. While they’re ordering more everyday items and our repeat order rate is up, we hear the same kind of complaints all of the time; we know our system and we know it’s a bit clunky to get that reorder out of a customer.

We’ve been trying to get the app out the door but things just come in as a priority that need to get done, typical startup stuff. It’s still something we’re trying to double down on: getting people to reorder and making it easy to reorder.

Brands that have seen a surge in orders are struggling with scalability, operationally and otherwise. How are you handling this?

Internally, we’re prioritizing who we onboard. We have (and I’m not kidding you) hundreds of brands approaching us weekly to get on BUBBLE because Amazon restricted third-party seller accounts and isn’t onboarding any new companies.

Every March is like fashion week for food at Expo West. It’s when a lot of people plan their new food launches, so when that went out the window, a lot of brands no longer had a platform to launch on or get picked up by buyers. Now, we have all of these new brands coming to us and saying “We can’t even get on Amazon, Expo West is cancelled. We keep hearing about BUBBLE, can we get on?”

As a small team, we’re trying to manage the volume and give priority to certain brands impacted by COVID-19. We made the decision to give preference to new brands with storefront closures, new emerging clean-label brands, and those most impacted by COVID-19.

With existing brands, we’re doing very regular check-ins on inventory. We don’t house our inventory, which is one of the reasons why our shipment delays are so much lower than our competitors. Some of our competitors aren’t taking new orders, only serving their existing customer base, or have massive delays when you’re trying to calendar a delivery.

For us, because we don’t have the inventory and each brand is shipping individually, we’ve avoided a lot of those issues. But at the same time, it’s more to manage. For example, we have some bakeries whose staff won’t come in. Even though they’re deemed as essential, they want to honor their employees. So, it’s crucial that we do weekly, if not biweekly, check-ins on inventory levels to make sure what we’re presenting to our customers is accurate. We’ve also adapted all customer communication to make sure we’re communicating in real-time.

Learn more about Jessica Young and BUBBLE over on their website.

To learn more about Amazing Women in eCommerce, head here. For more on Yotpo’s response to COVID-19 and resources for navigating this time, please visit our COVID-19 Resources page.

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