The direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model is one that has gained increased traction over the last few years. From Dollar Shave Club to Huel, it is no longer the reserve of upstarts and unknowns, with more and more recognizable brands reaching consumers with this business model.
And while many of these brands eventually “graduate” with some form of presence on the shelves of grocery stores and retailers, these days their initial absence rarely stymies their ascent.
The rise of these new brands has allowed new ideas and innovations to emerge in industries that have resisted change for years — this perfectly applies to Just Spices and the so-called taste-elevation industry (herbs, seasonings, condiments, and spices) that it has upended with its unconventional approach to its product offering.
In this Brand Deep Dive, we’re going to take a closer at the story of Just Spices and how their approach added much-needed flavor to an industry that had become increasingly bland.
From Bland Rice to Brand Spice: Mixing Up An Industry
Sometimes innovation comes from the most unlikely of places — and Just Spices is no exception — as it was founded in Germany, a country whose cuisine is infamous for lacking big flavors. But perhaps the country’s underdeveloped spice and seasoning market was a vital ingredient that drove founders Florian Falk, Ole Strohschneider, and Bela Seebach to notice a valuable gap that they could capitalize on.
While living together in Dortmund, the trio — all three of them hobbyist cooks and self-described “freunde des guten geschmacks / friends of good taste” — were dismayed when shopping for the ingredients for an Indian recipe. For one dish they needed what felt like hundreds of separate spices. They wondered why it was not possible to just assemble their own spice mixes or buy in smaller quantities — and why the spice jars were so visually flavorless.
At that moment, the idea behind Just Spices was born.
Florian, Ole, and Bela traveled the world in 2014 to source the biggest flavors from across the globe and understand what made certain spice mixes work. Upon their return, they set about bringing their product offering together from the basement of Florian’s parent’s house. From here, they created a website where users could purchase the spice kits directly and sourced aroma-tight cardboard tubs with bright, appealing designs.
Their goal was to add a new ingredient to the mix that the industry was severely lacking: emotion. To them, buying spices at the grocery store had become a routine chore, “like buying socks”, but it had the potential to be so much more. They wanted to make spices exciting again and pepper the retail experience with a sense of discovery and adventure.
On top of this, the team also wanted to update how spices were incorporated into the lives of modern consumers — and especially those home cooks who wanted to save time and often read recipes from their smartphones. With this in mind, they created a product that incorporated “global flavors, organic, chemical-free ingredients, convenience, and a digitally-enabled experience.”
Since its founding in 2014, the brand has shaken up its category and expanded from its native Germany, first into Switzerland and Austria — and then further afield into Spain and the United Kingdom, with eyes to keep breaking into new markets. Though its products are available in supermarkets in the DACH region, as of 2020 60% of the company’s sales came from its online store.
With a product range of more than 170 different blends, salad dressings, and “in-minutes” meal mixes, the brand has pushed beyond the industry’s traditional offering to provide special combinations that are tailor-made as toppings for specific dishes, such as their avocado toppings, Italian allrounders, and oatmeal spices.
With a focus on “data-driven innovation”, Just Spices deftly used social media to engage with Millennial and Gen Z consumers and used advanced analytics capabilities that “enabled it to identify early consumer trend signals, drive product innovation, understand customer sentiment, and optimize customer engagement.” Impressed by their trajectory of growth and strong portfolio of products, the condiment and baked-bean titan, Kraft Heinz, bought a majority stake in Just Spices in 2021.
With the backing of a major player in the taste elevation industry, Just Spices is set to continue growing — but what can brands learn from their story so far?
What Can You Learn From Just Spices?
1. Appeal to Consumers' Emotions
One of Just Spices’ core goals was to put the emotion back into the process of buying and using spices. In their native Germany, the spice aisle of grocery stores was not really a battlefield of competing brands like other sections often can be. In the place of visual storytelling and strong identities, brands presented themselves in the same uniform, functional way.
Just Spices wanted to change this.
Their colorful cardboard tubs might hide the often kaleidoscopic colors of their spice mixes, but by featuring illustrations of various caricatures they certainly allow the brand to command its own unique visual identity.
Their online shop is also colorful and bright, and rather than focusing on the products, it puts the possibilities of how they can be used in the spotlight with Instagram-inspired visuals of delicious-looking meals.
Similar to fellow D2C brand Huel — Just Spices has purposefully shifted the emphasis from its product offering to broader themes, in its case: cooking, travel, and lifestyle — in order to expand the scope of what its brand represents to consumers.
The Takeaway: Though we like to think that we make many purchasing decisions based on rational factors such as price or quality — in reality, many consumers are driven by the emotional connections they have with certain brands.
Indeed, some of the biggest brands represent so much more than the product they’re actually related to, whether they’re status symbols, make consumers feel like part of a larger community, or just use nostalgia to bring back fond memories.
By appealing to customers’ emotions, you can give your product a chance to be more than the sum of its parts and that can be one of the most important and valuable functions of your brand.
2. Take The Road Less Traveled
For the founders of Just Spices, the seasonings and spices category was ripe for reinvention, but, perhaps now their success only seems guaranteed because we have the benefit of hindsight.
Indeed, Just Spices took a risk when it went against the grain and decided to do things differently — not only in delivering its products through an online shop rather than using large retailers but also through its distinct approach to branding and advertising.
These were things that other brands within the category weren’t really doing — and by embracing the road less traveled, Just Spices was able to grow in ways that had evaded other brands in the same industry.
The Takeaway: It’s easy to assume that an industry doesn’t have space for innovation — until someone else comes along with a bright idea that shakes everything up. Just Spices, Dollar Shave Club, and Bloom & Wild are just a few examples of brands that blindsided complacent industries with new and innovative approaches to their sectors.
It’s certainly a lot harder in practice, but at the very least brands should have an eye on emerging trends and embrace change rather than resisting it. If it looks like there’s any chance to grow the market in a new direction, rather than fighting over existing share then this too, should be something your brand tries to crack
And with brand tracking software, the process of reaching new audiences and fostering your brand’s relationship with them is one you can track and optimize over time.
3. Use Online Platforms To Extend Your Brand
By opting for an online shop, Falk, Strohschneider, and Seebach gave the Just Spices brand much more space to bulk out its identity and engage with consumers than they ever could achieve with the tiny, momentary interactions that take place in the aisles of grocery stores.
The online approach of Just Spices is the perfect example of a brand that has used a combination of online platforms to build its identity and support its product offering, even though it exists in an industry that’s perceived as one that is typically “offline.”
The brand’s website and social media accounts — particularly its Instagram account — are crafted to help the product fit around consumer needs, while also driving engagement with interesting, colorful visuals. By supplying recipes and ideas and presenting them in easy-to-follow short videos, the brand has used its online presence to add more value to its product.
The Takeaway: It doesn’t matter what product your brand represents, even if it can’t be purchased online — there are numerous opportunities to take advantage of by using online platforms.
If an online shop isn’t an option, you still need a website to promote the best of your brand, while social media can be a great way of organically reaching new consumers or engaging with your existing community of customers.
Just Spices represents a brand that has used online platforms to reach and engage with customers in ways not typical for its sector. By embracing a D2C business model and building a product offering that is tailored to the needs (and aspirations) of its target audience, it has created an exciting brand identity and challenged the status quo.
Other brands should definitely take note of its success and remember that doing things differently needn’t be so daring — by utilizing brand monitoring software, other brands could also take steps along the path less traveled while keeping track of how their unconventional approach is being received by consumers. And with a few course corrections here and there, could grow their market in ways previously unthought of.