Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The ECA Q+A, Ben Patten of Good Club

Glynn Davis, our regular columnist and founder of Retail Insider sits down with Ben Patten, Founder of Good Club

Can you tell us about Good Club and the business model?

Good Club is an online zero waste grocer and brand. We are focused on the huge environmental damage created by packaging waste in groceries – the damage caused by plastic and other waste, and the huge carbon footprint of grocery packaging.

Good Club delivers all orders in its reusable boxes, and the products – soon to be 100% – are in reusable packaging. This means that when a customer has used the product, the packaging can be returned for reuse. The customer just needs to leave the box outside their home and it will be picked up. These boxes and pots are washed, refilled and relabeled ready for the next delivery. 

Through our research, we have found that deliveries using our new returnable system, versus single-use packaging and cardboard boxes, will reduce the carbon footprint of an e-commerce delivery by 80 per cent and could remove billions of pieces of single-use plastic from the supply chain.

What prompted you to set up the business?

Both my co-founder, Danny, and I are passionate about living sustainably. We tested some initial ideas and were overwhelmed with feedback from customers looking for a solution for the packaging problem. When we did our research we realised that it will be impossible to construct a sustainable grocery industry without a more resource-efficient approach – circular solutions were the only ones that truly seemed to solve the problem. We also want to make this easy, as we know that it will only be by providing a better solution, that we can alter the status quo.

How has it gone since launch?

Good Club was launched in 2019 and has grown 20-times since it started. We have over currently have over 150 zero-waste products but with fresh funding, we are looking to grow this line to 750 products by early next year, with more brands participating. We are also opening a new operational site which will remove logistics and labour costs associated with transporting goods for cleaning. This will lead to around a 26 per cent reduction in operational costs. We are thrilled with the growth so far and our ambition is to become Europe’s market-leading, waste-free brand and retailer.

What’s the biggest challenge – attracting customers, working with the brands?

The biggest challenge is designing and offering a service that is convenient for every household. With any habit as entrenched as grocery shopping, there will be big demands on households to alter their behaviour from choosing products to completely novel steps (e.g. returning reusable packaging). However trivial such changes might seem, they are slightly altering everything about how a home is run. We need to, as much as we can, make that transition seamless.  

Do you see more customers using their own containers or your bespoke vessels?

Currently, customers tend to decant into their own containers, but we are looking at ways of making it easier to use our own Good Club containers. There are different user needs for different categories, so we need to offer the most convenient solutions. Ultimately, with the rollout of better tracking infrastructure, we are not concerned about people using our reusable containers to store their products. We know we can get them back.

What problems have you faced and what elements have you had to adapt?

We have learnt a lot about how people relate to reusable packaging, with lots of micro problems to solve for customers. Good Club is currently working to develop the next generation of containers and to change the collection process. We will always be working on improving our systems to make the whole cycle of reuse easier, more efficient and to secure a better environmental outcome. This includes changes to make the containers stackable, easier to transport, easier to clean, easier to cook with and use. 

What sort of competition is there in the market?

We have seen a very small number of supermarkets offer refill stations and reusable packaging, however, we haven’t seen much in the way of dedicated online zero-waste stores. Nobody else has got close to cracking the reverse logistics of recovering the packaging online. The combination of our technology and packaging allows us to offer an ever-expanding range of products in reusable packaging and continue to make it easier, more efficient and get better environmental outcomes.

Are the big grocers a potential threat?

Our company has been focused on efficiency and sustainability from the start. Due to the nature of our business and being solely online, we don’t feel that there is a potential threat to our target audience that will be met by the big grocers. Our delivery system and reusable packaging is unique and built from first principles. The big grocers have enough on their plate trying to work out how to tackle the new generation of digital grocers.

Would you consider operating physical units?

We are now getting a number of approaches by different retailers, online and offline, to offer our range of products in reusable packaging. Our online site provides an efficient and accessible service to our customers. We see more efficiency in online, but we know we need an omni-channel solution, so that is what we are designing for.

What about the future?

Good Club has solid foundations for future growth and we are looking to increase our customer base through expansion of our range, categories we have to offer, and by selling through new channels. We have moved to a new operational site in the last few weeks and we will be developing improved packaging designs, which will improve margins, save customers’ time and create defensibility. We have just completed an oversubscribed crowdfunding round as a preliminary to a bigger fundraise early next year.