Courtesy of Brandless

The entire selection is the store's private label.

Mike Pomranz
July 12, 2017

One of the biggest battlegrounds in America’s grocery store wars is “private label” products. In the old days, we called these “generic brands” because they aren’t “name brands” available across multiple stores; these products are exclusive to the retailer you’re shopping at – whether obviously, like a Trader Joe’s branded box of crackers, or slightly more covertly, like anything from the brand Kirkland at Costco. However, the “generic” moniker doesn’t quite fit as well as it used to because though these items are still less expensive, at many major retailers – Trader Joe’s and Costco being two examples – these labels have become a draw all their own: known for offering high quality at good price point. In fact, luring customers in with private labels has been on the front line of many grocery stores’ expansion plans. For instance, German discount supermarket Lidl is exploding onto the American grocery scene this year, supporting its low-price model with shelves stocked with 90 percent private labels products.

But what if you could discount private label prices even further by not having brick-and-mortar stores at all? That’s the idea behind Brandless, a recently launched online supermarket that borrows equally from the success of private labels, fixed price outlets like Dollar Tree, and subscription services like Amazon Prime and Dollar Shave Club.

The idea is simple – almost to a fault. Brandless only sells its own “Brandless”-branded goods, an “irresistible selection of the food and household products you reach for every day” that the company claims is made from “high-quality materials and healthy ingredients” before adding that “everything that's Brandless is also bad-stuff-less and goodness‑ful.” The takeaway: Despite being theoretically “generic,” these products are meant to compete with high-end private labels. The landing page of the Brandless website is currently pushing Organic Fair Trade Cold Brew Coffee, Organic Apple Sauce Pouches and Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. And here’s your bizarre, seemingly unnecessary twist: Everything in the whole store is $3. Meanwhile, shipping is free if you spend over $72 or, for a $36 annual fee, over $48. (These people love multiplying by threes!)

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal compared the prices of some of Brandless’s 115 products available at launch and found that many of them weren’t cheaper than Whole Foods’ 365 private label brand or even name brands at Target. So the question becomes, will customers trust Brandless – which, ironically, is a brand they don’t know – to deliver high quality goods over brands they already trust? “Everyone should be able to tell their own stories and not feel they need to live up to the false narrative we are led to think makes us thinner, taller, faster, better or even new and improved,” Brandless co-founder and CEO Tina Sharkey wrote yesterday. “The same goes for products.” It’s a beautifully generic sentiment: I almost want to pay $3 for it.