- Hive, an e-grocer focused on selling a curated assortment of around 800 shelf-stable products vetted for environmental sustainability and social impact, has launched an online marketplace shipping products nationwide.
- The company is helmed by veterans of direct-to-consumer, packaged goods and retail companies like Freshpet and Casper. Thomas Ellis, Hive’s co-founder and CEO, spent five years as a manager with Walmart’s Jet.com.
- Online-only food retailers like Thrive Market, Boxed and Public Goods have ridden a wave of online demand during the pandemic as new entrants have cropped up. Hive hopes to stand out through its focus on social and environmental issues and by helping shoppers track the impact of the purchases they make.
Where many specialty retailers, both online and brick-and-mortar, focus on personal health and labels like natural, organic and fair trade, Hive is digging deeper into values-based shopping. It highlights information like carbon footprint, packaging materials and social justice initiatives for its products and makes tracking that information a core part of the shopping experience.
Customers get detailed supplier profiles on each product page outlining sustainability and human rights credentials in addition to health and ingredients information. They can also shop according to causes like poverty, the environment and education, spotlighting products and companies that specialize in each category, whether through their production practices, outreach efforts or both.
After checking out, customers get a rundown of the social and sustainability impacts of their purchases along with the pounds of carbon the company plans to offset for each shipment. In their profile page, shoppers can track the total carbon footprint of their purchases, which Hive offsets, along with other stats like total percentage of packaging that’s recyclable and number of products purchased that are certified for sustainable agriculture.
This might sound like information overload, but according to Katie Tyson, co-founder and chief commercial officer at Hive, it’s just what many values-driven shoppers are looking for.
“The way we've tried to set it up and be mindful of is if you want to go deeper and learn more, that is available to you. But if you want to just shop the site and get to your checkout as quickly as possible, that's an option too,” she said.
Ellis, the former Jet.com manager, says Hive is focusing on products from small producers that often have trouble getting on store shelves as well as brands well known to specialty shoppers, like Tony’s Chocolonely. He said many specialty shoppers are looking for consciously-sourced products and are increasingly turned off by chains like Whole Foods.
“We’re trying to solve this piece of retail that I’ve experienced firsthand where you’ve got a bunch of really cool, exciting brands out there and consumers trying to find them, but that have a hard time connecting,” Ellis said.
Hive’s assortment centers on shelf-stable fill-ins like snacks, beverages and pantry essentials. It currently sources from just over 100 brands and plans to move further into health and personal care, but Ellis said Hive doesn’t want to go too much higher on overall assortment so that it can remain a curated experience.
Many online specialty retailers follow a paid membership model, which can help lock in loyalty and offset high operational costs. But Ellis and Tyson said they learned through consumer research that many are frustrated by this model and said they feel the Hive model is strong enough to stand on its own.
Hive is launching at a time when online grocery is projected to become $250 billion business in five years. It’s also kicking off during a time of realignment in specialty retail, with brick-and-mortar grocers like Earth Fare, Fresh Thyme and Whole Foods struggling to connect with shoppers, while online brands and small stores seek to deepen ties with faithful natural and organic consumers.