Since its inception in 2016, Oddbox, the subscription delivery service for perfectly imperfect fruit and veg, has saved a whopping 34,000 tonnes of food from going to waste, and has delivered five million boxes across the UK. The concept is simple: supermarkets often reject produce that doesn’t conform to very narrow aesthetic standards, even though it’s destined to be chopped, fried, stewed or mashed. Oddbox deals directly with farmers to pool together wonky fruit and veg and deliver healthy, seasonal food to subscribers. It saw a six-fold growth in 2020, and its mission to make a dent in the country’s colossal mountain of food waste has seen it reach a natural audience online and through local, largely London-based OOH. Now though, it’s time for Oddbox to make a leap and go big as it’s just launched its very first TV campaign.
The campaign was devised by agency Hell Yeah! and it sees the brand lean into the quirky sense of humour inherent to the brand’s name. It’s a carefully considered leap for Oddbox - while lockdown saw a natural surge in its customer base, they’re now adjusting to a ‘new normal’. Refreshingly, unlike many modern, growing DTC brands, Oddbox’s sustainable philosophy extends to its business model. It’s been a B Corp since 2020 and its desire to grow does not come at the expense of profitability.
The brand’s head of growth, Elisabeth Yates, has been at Oddbox since early 2021 and she is focused on scaling Oddbox to be a profitable, household brand while supporting the mission to fight food waste. Before joining Oddbox she built her career as a commercial marketing leader at well-known brands including Sainsbury's, Groupon and Google - but Oddbox has proven to be a unique and fulfilling journey for her. Here, she talks about the new campaign and delves into Oddbox’s thoughtful approach to humour, the cost of living crisis and building a brand that’s sustainable and profitable.
LBB> For this campaign, what was the brief that you gave to the agency? What business goals are you specifically hoping to achieve?
Elisabeth> When we briefed Hell Yeah!, we felt that we had done a lot to maximise efficiency across our marketing channels, and were relying really heavily on digital. TV was the next step for us.
We really carefully considered what the TV concept should be. A lot of DTC brands go down a direct response route, but we didn’t feel it would do justice to our important mission of fighting food waste. But at the same time, we didn’t want to go down a purely brand route, as we did have a commercial objective - reaching new people and driving acquisition during January, which is a crucial trading period for us.
We wanted something that would tap into the core insight of why our customers are so happy to be Oddbox customers - that feeling of joy and pride that you get when you feel like you’re doing good. We also wanted what we created to strike a good balance of communicating our key proposition for those who haven't heard of us, but also tapping into that feeling. So really, we wanted it to have a dual purpose/objective
LBB> You mention that TV was the next step for you - but why and why now?
Liz> There’s no denying that people's viewing habits have become fragmented - a lot of people are viewing on platforms that don’t even support advertising. But we know there’s a lot of incremental reach from TV and we know that now we have a rapidly expanding audience that are over 55. So TV really was the next logical step.
In addition to reaching new audiences, TV is still one of the best formats you can work with to really get across your brand mission and story and explain your core proposition. So that’s why TV, really - we have a lot of confidence in it as a channel.
As for why now, I'd say it’s because it feels like we’ve reached the size where we have well established digital channels and we’re now ready to reach that next tranche of customers. As we have moved outside London, channels like OOH don’t tend to work as well if you're not in such a densely populated area, and TV is one of the best channels for mass messaging, especially outside of London.
LBB> How long have you been working with Hell Yeah! and what has that relationship brought to Oddbox's marketing?
Elisabeth> We started working with them last spring, and the process has honestly been probably one of the best that I've had with a creative agency. They’ve been incredibly well-organised and transparent. We’ve had really clearly articulated milestones and a very good level of communication.
A lot of their creative choices have been very carefully considered which has helped, so there was less need for back and forth on feedback. Generally, when we have been presented with something for feedback it’s aligned with the brief and what we intended to do. They have made the process feel incredibly easy and very smooth, and we actually produced the ad with a few weeks to spare, which I don't think has ever happened before either.
LBB> What was it about the concept they presented that really resonated with you?
Elisabeth> More than any other agency, what really stood out was the amount of thought and consideration that had gone into understanding our target audience. Hell Yeah! hadn’t just looked at superficial considerations or given us data points. They really understood who we were trying to appeal to and all of the ideas they presented at pitch were brilliant. Their understanding and strategic thinking really stood out.
When Hell Yeah! pitched and we saw the idea that we progressed with for the ad - it was unanimous in the room, we had found our winning concept. We felt they had totally nailed it - and it was the first time in my career that all stakeholders had been so clearly aligned around a single idea.
LBB> The comedic approach works really well for the brand given the name - how do you navigate the challenges of getting that comedic tone just right and on-brand?
Elisabeth> That’s a great question! I won’t lie, there was a lot of back and forth on the script for that very reason - we wanted something that really resonated with people and reflected what we thought our target audience might actually say.
And in terms of the humour, I think it was Hell Yeah! that really nailed it - we provided feedback of course - but on top of that, the choice of director was fantastic. Mary-Sue Masson is known for working on comedy ads and scripts and we felt her style worked really well with what we wanted. We are Oddbox and we do things differently but we are still down to earth - so her down to earth humour really worked so well.
For us, overall, humour was really important. A lot of mission-oriented brands can be quite heavy and we wanted humour to make Oddbox feel more accessible.
LBB> For those of our readers outside of the UK, can you give us an idea of Oddbox's journey?
Elisabeth> We were founded in 2016 and the idea was conceived by our founders, who are a married couple. They were on holiday in Portugal and they noticed that a lot of the fruit and veg they saw at local markets wasn’t perfectly shaped and sized.
They wondered why that wasn’t the case in the UK - and found that 40% of the food grown globally goes to waste. This is a huge problem in the food industry - and it’s one of the most addressable causes of CO2 emissions. So they wanted to do something about it at the farm level, and the idea of Oddbox was conceived. We speak to farmers and discover what may have been rejected by supermarkets, either because it's not quite the right specification or in many cases, because it is surplus. We then take that produce and deliver it to our customers as part of our weekly rescue mission.
We started supplying fruit and veg in London and since the beginning of 2020, we’ve expanded rapidly and [can] now deliver to 66% of households in the UK. We’ve delivered more than five million boxes to date and saved over 34,000 tonnes of fruit and veg from being at risk of going to waste.
LBB> From a creative brand perspective, Oddbox has such a strong name and aesthetic - not to mention a very clear purpose and set of values - how did all that come together?
Elisabeth> The brand was relaunched in its current form in March 2021 and we worked with a creative agency to support us on that. They were the ones that really developed our brand promise of ‘eat good, do good and stay odd’ which are our philosophies.
There are a lot of things we do differently - like the fact we deliver overnight which we do to reduce emissions and our quirk, helpful tone of voice - we use a lot of fruit and veg puns in our comms. It’s fair to say it’s very popular with our community. It's the only business I've ever been part of where customers send us Christmas cards!
LBB> Oddbox grew six-fold in 2020 - how did lockdown change consumer thinking, now that we're in the post-lockdown world, how has that new reality shaped what the business is today?
Elisabeth> There’s no denying that covid had a huge impact on all D2C businesses and Oddbox is no exception. We saw significant organic growth overnight in 2020 as people clamoured to buy groceries online. However, from 2021 onwards we saw a lot more people eating out, and less in-home eating.
But despite that, because in 2021 we had had a renewed focus on our marketing efforts and started to run integrated campaigns and optimise creative, we fared pretty well. Part of the reason is that we’re a business that’s never prioritised growth at all costs - always only profitable growth. And we’re always careful about how we’re spending marketing budgets which have allowed us to continue to grow in a profitable way.
So even though the macro trends have been challenging in a post covid world, including inflation and higher operating costs - we've been very budget conscious and able to adapt quickly to what’s happening, and that’s put us in the best possible position at this moment in time.
LBB> What impact has the cost of living crisis played on your marketing strategy? It would seem to me that Oddbox is something that for many families can be both more cost effective and sustainable, for example.
Elisabeth> The cost of living crisis is a double edged sword for us. The average Oddbox customer can be a bit more affluent, and Oddbox is your weekly fruit and veg and not a luxury product - but even then, every business and brand is impacted by cost of living. Even those with relatively comfortable incomes who are making decisions on buying essentials, are still assessing where and how they spend their money.
We’ve definitely seen customers are more cost conscious. That being said, the Oddbox proposition does represent an opportunity for many people to eat healthily and cost effectively. It does require you to cook from scratch and our recipes are predominantly plant based and we encourage batch cooking, which is generally more cost effective.
We also encourage ingredient substitutions and provide tips and hacks to ensure that our customers can use up every last item and not create waste at home. We promote a flexible approach to cooking which really resonates with the current sentiment of being resourceful and cutting back on waste. We have a recipe book that launched in December and that's exactly what it talks about - flexibility and substitution and how to cook well on a budget.
LBB> Looking forward to 2023, what are your marketing and business goals for the coming year?
Elisabeth> We want to make it easier for people to fight food waste. We know historically that sometimes the Oddbox proposition of receiving fruit and veg that would otherwise be at risk of going to waste is hard for people who want to have an ultimate choice over what they receive. So we want to offer people a more mission-aligned choice as to what they get in their box.
We’ve also started partnering with other mission led brands, expending Oddbox contents into other categories.
Marketing wise, we will continue to be very focussed on efficiency, as we have been since the start; keeping an eye on profitability. I would love to see TV become an established channel for us - the early results from this campaign have been quite promising. We now have a chance to re-optimise our digital creative further too, and they will be another key focus area for us.