Sprinkle - Creating an e-commerce spice brand

  • Post by Rachel
  • May 31, 2020
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We started Sprinkle, an innovative, next generation spice brand in May 2018.

The ‘Sprinkle’ idea was born out of my own love of cooking and flavour and a frustration with the inferior quality spices found in unloved supermarket spice aisles everywhere. We wanted to introduce people to the magic of Tel-Aviv’s iconic spice markets by helping customers experience what fresh, aromatic spice blends inspired by global cuisines really taste like and empower them to be healthy and cook incredible meals for their family and friends with minimal effort.

We were product-obsessed. But aside from a relentless focus on the quality, freshness and uniqueness of our products, ethical ingredient sourcing and sustainable packaging, we were also customer centric in our approach - we tried to reinvent the online shopping experience in Australia and delight our customers with personalised, thoughtful packaging, super fast delivery and outstanding customer service so that the Sprinkle end-to-end brand experience was as remarkable as the product itself.

We decided to adopt a vertically-integrated model (i.e. not outsource manufacturing and fulfilment as many online businesses do). That helped us achieve brand USP as most brands in the spice category either manufacture in giant factories or outsource the making and/or shipping of their products to third parties, resulting in an inferior product and a mediocre customer experience overall. We wanted to innovate by doing things the right way, not necessarily the easy way, and focus on long-term goals rather than short-term gains.

To implement this strategy, we built a world-class website as well as a small factory in Melbourne, invested heavily in brand design, product photography and content, designed custom packaging and set up various operational structures to support efficient manufacturing and fulfilment.

The brand grew exponentially month-on-month with loyal customers from all over Australia and over 100 five-star reviews. We also worked with a few select stockists in VIC, NSW and QLD and established a growing social media following on IG.

1.Vision & business model

Vision

Create an independent, innovative, Australian spice brand that brings together a community of food lovers and avid home cooks, inspires and empowers them to eat better and live better. The tagline was ‘Small Batch. Big Flavour’.

Mission

Sprinkle set out to shake up the spice industry and do for spices what the craft movement did for chocolate and coffee - introduce consumers to fresh, flavourful and ethically sourced spices. Sprinkle’s mission was to empower busy, health conscious home cooks and foodies to transform everyday cooking easily and quickly.

DTC model

Fundamentally, our goal was to be a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand, i.e. sell directly to consumers through our website, dispensing with traditional middlemen such as retailers, supermarkets and distributors (and a long chain of spice traders) who stood between spice growers in developing countries and consumers in the West.

Strategy

Our strategy was to differentiate ourselves from our competitors by delivering an exceptional product and designing an enhanced, end-to-end digital user experience that would delight customers and exceed expectations. We devised unique ways to reach and engage with our customers mainly through digital channels, which was quite revolutionary, especially for this product category.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing was a core part of our strategy and business model - we aimed to have a vertically integrated operation and fully control all elements of the supply chain - from sourcing our raw materials directly from select growers to packing and shipping the product ourselves, and everything in between.

2. Inspiration

We were inspired by world-leading DTC consumer, lifestyle and food brands who are at the forefront of e-commerce and digital innovation such as Net-a-Porter, GOOP, Food52, Dandelion Chocolate, the Honest Company, Black Rifle Coffee, All Birds and Warby Parker.

We tapped into a growing global trend of increased consumer demand for independent, ethical and authentic brands that offered higher quality products and connected with customer values and aspirations. The market for organic spices and condiments was predicted to grow at 5% CAGR and be worth approximately $40bn by 2025. Additionally, celebrity chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi and Jamie Oliver were popularising home cooking and introducing people to Middle Eastern cooking, exotic spices and other lesser known condiments and flavours which resulted in increased demand for these products.

3.Brand design (logo, colours, labels, packaging & stationery)

The Sprinkle brand design was a central part of the product development process and something we spent a lot of time on refining. What started as a rough idea quickly transformed into a vibrant brand with its own distinct personality. The brand name itself - ‘Sprinkle’ - was chosen because it’s catchy, memorable and embodied the product and central brand message - that flavourful healthy cooking is easy - it only requires a little sprinkle. We wanted to create a fun, engaging and premium spice brand (in contrast to the trite, tired and uninspiring spice and condiments brands out there that are stale and packed with nasties) that people would enjoy using daily in their kitchen.

We followed the following key design principles:

1/ Clean, modern & minimalistic design - Because spices and spice blends originate from different parts of the world and a variety of global cuisines, our brand colour palette reflects 5 regions which were the categories ‘housing’ our product collection (Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Americas and Australia). Our logo and brand fonts were also designed to capture the brand’s playful spirit - we were serious about spices but didn’t take ourselves too seriously.

2/ Maintain consistency across all mediums and ensure the brand identity seamlessly flows through the website, products and packaging as well as digital content, marketing emails and social presence.

3/ Packaging shouldn’t be an afterthought - we carefully selected quality glass jars and designed a custom branded shipping box - packaging was purposely designed to be highly functional, aligned with our freshness values, consistent with the brand’s premium look and feel and deliver a remarkable user experience overall. Also, our packaging was tailored for digital (different to how you might design packaging for bricks and mortar retail). Labels, gift boxes and the signature Sprinkle shipping box were highly functional but also intended to be bright, colourful, eye catching and instagrammable.

4/ End-to-end personalised experience - In e-commerce the shopping experience doesn’t end at checkout. It’s important to ensure a remarkable shopping experience at every customer touchpoint in the shopping funnel (from website to shipping to unboxing and beyond). Inspired by e-commerce giants such as Net-a-Porter, our products included premium tissue paper wrapping, custom stickers, a custom-designed Thank You Card with a handwritten message as well as a Sprinkle Intro Card that told customers a bit more about the brand’s story and mission and helped them find useful recipes and cooking inspiration.

4.Website design/UX

Our website was thoughtfully designed to follow e-commerce UX best practices:

  • Don’t make users think - the website was designed to be as obvious and self explanatory as possible (we went through several iterations and experiments to get it right). We wanted to enable visitors who are short on time and attention to either easily search and find what they’re after or browse without getting stuck or frustrated. Product pages had clear, easy to digest sections. Product collections (like blends) were small and easy to navigate.
  • Mobile friendly - our website was mobile compatible and fast as many shoppers today turn to their mobile phones first.
  • Ensure product photography is in scale - product photography was high resolution and clear on scale and detail, so consumers can get a sense of the product’s size and what it contains. We also had pinch gestures allowing users to zoom in on products both on mobile and desktop. Each product had a hero image and visible thumbnails making the product page quite visual and transparent to build trust and enable a frictionless experience.
  • Display the right amount of information - we aimed to make product pages informative and helpful, providing recipe links, ingredients information, product uses and shipping information, answering most questions a user would have when landing on a product page. Copy was kept consistent with the brand voice and tone (friendly, helpful, casual).
  • Easy and quick checkout process - checkout was simple and fast with minimal fields and a clear, informative confirmation email to follow. You could check out as a guest and account creation was optional.
  • Payment options - we offered easy and commonly used payment options (credit card, PayPal, Google) via a secure payment gateway (Stripe).
  • Product reviews and ratings - these were clearly displayed for every product on the product page and viewable on the Home page as well.

Examples of Sprinkle collection pages & Sprinkle product page:

5.Product range

Our collection included 14 spice blends, 6 single origin and fine salts, several spice bundles (changed by season) and 4 gift hampers carefully curated for foodies, BBQ lovers and avid cooks which included Sprinkle products and local, small batch goodies (condiments, sweets etc) from Australian makers. We also sold complementary pantry items (e.g. organic olive oil, preserved lemons, harissa paste) through partnerships with small local manufacturers who shared our values.

Sprinkle’s Bundles, Gift Boxes & Pantry:

6.Key takeaways

a) Your website is one of your most important scaling weapons

  • Don’t assume that you can simply lift a Shopify template and orders will start flowing in. Shopify is an extremely useful platform and will certainly make your life a whole lot easier. But it’s key is to customise the template to your own needs, brand, product and audience. Work on your website never ends - you’ll need to constantly review your analytics, find problem areas (bounce rates/ abandoned carts/low conversion/traffic sources) and fix or tweak them. There’s a lot of experimentation involved and it won’t always be easy to determine why users act a certain way but you need to be on top of these things and continuously improve the experience as you get more user feedback.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with A/B testing to try out different layouts of the Home page, imaging, copy, calls to action etc. Sometimes, it’s small things (like a button’s location or font size that can make a huge difference).
  • Have a mobile-first, fast website (most visitors will abandon your website if a page takes more than 2 seconds to download).
  • The Home page is important but product pages, about pages, the blog and other pages users may land on through Google searches are just as crucial to conversion. Home pages of leading e-commerce retailers today tend to be more minimalistic and limit the amount of information, choices and content while helping users navigate their way through the site.
  • Treat your product pages like mini Home pages that help immerse the user in the brand, provide the information they’re looking for and help them discover other complementary or similar products they may be interested in.
  • Personalisation tools are becoming more commonplace. If you can offer users in different locations or demographics an experience that’s tailored to their specific needs and problems, you’ll reap the rewards, reduce site abandonment/bounce rate and connect with your audience more effectively.
  • For more tips and best practices on how to optimise your website for e-commerce check out the Baymard Institute.

b) Get visual

  • While establishing a distinct, clear and unique brand voice and tone and carefully crafting your website and product label copy is vital, great visuals are key.
  • As Steve Krug observes in his well known usability book ‘Don’t Make Me Thinkmost people in fact scan pages rather than read them. Make sure your copy is impactful, consistent and short and let the visuals (images or video) do more of the talking.
  • High quality, high resolution photography is extremely important to tell your brand’s story, showcase your products and - most importantly - help users understand what they’re purchasing. Photography isn’t just important on the Home page. Product pages should be equally visual, engaging and include both clear, at scale product images as well as lifestyle shots showing your products in action. Visuals are also massively important given how crucial social media channels are to your brand marketing. Hire a decent photographer and get shooting!

c) Don’t skimp on design

  • While there are plenty of good design tools out there today (Canva being a great one), DYI design will look like…DIY design!. Especially when you’re selling online as opposed to traditional bricks and mortar, your brand presence is all you have. This is how you communicate your identity, values and personality to your customers.
  • Have a well designed, congruent, well presented brand identity that’s consistent across your website, products, packaging, social media, marketing materials, stationery etc. A great design will also look so much better in photos (conversely, no matter how good your photographer is, they won’t be able to make bad design look good).

d) Make it seamless, delightful and fuss-free

  • E-commerce may seem deceptively easy but there’s an art and a science to getting it right. There’s a lot more to it than just launching a website and posting packages. The entire shopping experience should be designed end-to-end to ensure all customer touch points deliver a positive, easy, fast and memorable experience. This means that everything from your website to social channels to the shopping funnel, shipping, order tracking and customer service should work like a Swiss clock - each touchpoint should be carefully considered from a customer’s point of view and be congruent with the brand, your messaging, strategy and vision. E.g.
  • Think about your website’s experience from the vantage point of someone who knows nothing about your brand and is of average digital savviness. Consider how easy it is for them to search for certain products they might be looking for, find it, find out how long shipping will take, move through the checkout process and get tracking details. The sales funnel is usually comprised of:
  • Introduction (Awareness)
  • Education (Interest)
  • Evaluation (Analysis)
  • Decision (Engagement)
  • Purchase
  • Retaining (Repeating the experience)

Each of these steps should be seamless, frictionless, informative and enjoyable.

e) Content is king

Content is a primary driver of marketing, user acquisition and virality. It’s hugely important in telling your brand story, engaging consumers, propagating your message and increasing retention. Brands like Dollar Shave Club, Food52, Goop, Redbull and Glossier are at the forefront of using content to reach and connect with their target audience and cement their reputation as lifestyle brands. Quality content (whether on product pages, blog, YouTube channels or social) will also be instrumental in SEO and driving organic traffic to your store. Good content takes a lot of effort but it’s so much more effective (and ultimately cheaper) than ads for growing your customer base and increasing awareness of your brand on the market.

Example of our Recipes page:

f) Listen carefully to your market but don’t assume customers always know what they want

  • There’s a fine balance to be struck between having an intimate knowledge of your customer’s pain points, personas, motivations, goals and preferences on the one hand and asking customers to design your product.
  • Ultimately, you should run several concurrent experiments to find your real product/market fit. You’ll no doubt discover that your initial thesis was incorrect - certain products will be a massive hit while others you thought would be a huge success end up faltering.
  • Conversely, don’t assume that just because your brand/product makes sense to you, everyone will share the same view. Talking to your best customers, paying attention to customer reviews and listening to social media commentary regularly are all useful ways to gain valuable insights and discover your blind spots (of which there’ll be many).

“Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it.”

-Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder & CEO

g) Be prepared to pivot

When you’re just at the start of the journey and figuring out of you have a product-market fit, it’s essential to be egoless and prepared to course correct at speed. Decision making quality and velocity are both super important. You should always have your finger on the pulse, know your market, competitors and customers in detail and ensure you can move fast and pivot if need be.

h) Mind your metrics

Last but definitely not least, your metrics matter and you should measure them regularly and consistently. Know your way around Google Analytics and set metrics that make sense for your business. Above all, if we can learn anything from e-commerce giant Amazon, is that being customer-obsessed is a good mantra to have and focusing on long-term gains rather that short term wins is a wise strategy.

“We first measure ourselves in terms of the metrics most indicative of our market leadership: customer and revenue growth, the degree to which our customers continue to purchase from us on a repeat basis, and the strength of our brand."

-Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder & CEO

Final word

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite Jeff Bezos quotes which sums up the e-commerce experience quite nicely:

“If you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness.”