Can the Subscription Box Model for Snacks Work in Southeast Asia?
After all, hunger can be a pain point
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Singaporean start-up Boxgreen began from a real pain point - hunger.
“In 2014, Andrew and Walter were both corporate bankers at DBS Bank, working long hours and skipping meals. When all the shops were closed at night, they survived on a diet of deadly vending machine sugared peanuts and chocolate bars. Clearly this was bad news,” says Alisa Ang, who handles Boxgreen’s brands and partnerships marketing.
According to Ang, the two co-founders then toyed with the idea of having a service that delivered better snack options on a regular basis. Their minimum viable product was a one-page website with a payment link, which they fulfilled with cold storage bought snacks. As demand for their business kept growing over the course of six months, they realized they were addressing a true need.
Boxgreen has since evolved from its earliest days. The company sources some of their nuts and dried fruits from countries all over the world, and the company employs both a nutritionist and a tastemaker to ensure that snacks are both delicious and healthy. Their offerings are also adjusted based on the data and feedback they get from customers, which is most evident in the snacks designed for a local palate.
“Boxgreen has unique localized snack flavors such as Cheng Tng, Royal Sultana Biryani Granola and Lucky Laksa 888 (laksa flavored nuts), all which you can’t find on supermarket shelves,” Ang notes.
Obtaining these snacks is simple. “Snackers start at their personalized online snack pantry, adding snacks that they’d like to try and also the frequency of box deliveries,” she says, noting that the snack box is then delivered via post in 3 to 5 days.
Such customization was not available early on. Ang says that one of their first mistakes was trying to deliver third-party branded products in a box. To their customers, Boxgreen would appear to be just another distributor, as they could easily get the same products in the stores.
“In response, we decided to keep everything under our own brand with our own customized single-serve packaging. This enabled us to create quirky flavors and control ingredient quality while ensuring a consistent snack experience,” Ang says.
The model is working. Boxgreen is now shipping out more than 1,000 boxes of snacks every month, and has doubled their subscriber base across Singapore and Malaysia since last year. The company also runs a media outlet dubbed The Pantry, where they publish content around food and healthy lifestyle tips, which is seeing steady growth in month-over-month visitors.
One for one
Boxgreen is as much a social enterprise as it is a tech start-up. The company follows the one-for-one model that many other product-based social enterprises have adopted. “When our customer purchases a box of snacks through our site, we’ll give an equivalent of a meal to the less privileged. The premise is simple, but the potential to help others is huge,” she says.
For the soup kitchen Willing Hearts alone, Boxgreen has provided more than 13,000 meals. The company also visits Willing Hearts as part of their team building activities. “We have fun and at the same time, we are doing good!” Ang says.
When a company bills itself as helping the social good, they are also bound to get more scrutiny. Ang says one of the most common concerns from potential clients is the environmental impact of their packaging. As a result, Boxgreen is trying to practice sustainability as a core value of the company.
“We use recycled materials for our boxes and cards and we’re working towards a box design that minimizes material used. The plastic packaging we use is recyclable while ensuring that food safety standards are maintained. We are also working towards using more FSC-certified materials, and soy-based ink, and are in the final stages of getting ourselves B-corp certified,” she says.
Over the next year, the company also plans to roll out 9 more Boxgreen branded vending machines that aim to bring healthy snacking closer to consumers. “This is in line with Boxgreen’s mission to make healthy snacking accessible to all. Moving forward, Boxgreen has plans to launch our own e-commerce store which caters to customers who want to purchase bigger bags for sharing,” she says.