Q&A   //   November 30, 2022

Thrive Market on how it cooks up collaborations with brands like LesserEvil

Thrive Market, a natural and organic membership-based grocery platform, is increasingly collaborating with rising brands like LesserEvil on exclusive products and new flavors.

Thrive Market offers discounts on thousands of consumer goods for a membership fee of $5 a month. It sorts items on its website and app by “aisle” (such as food, beauty and home), “diet” (such as Ketogenic, Paleo and vegan) and “brand” (such as KIND, Simple Mills and Seventh Generation). Thrive Market began experimenting with brand collaborations a couple years ago, Jenna Engleman, senior director of Thrive Market Brand, told Modern Retail. Its first partnership of this type was with the alternative meat company Beyond Meat. Thrive Market launched a line of three pouch-packaged Beyond Meat chilis in 2021.

Now, the company is forging more partnerships to appeal to its 1.2 million members. Collaborations arise “when our members are looking for certain products, and we think we can deliver them in a fun, unique way,” Engleman said. “With Covid, trends have shifted in different directions. And so it’s always trying to keep a pulse on what those are.” The most recent one goes live today: a brand-new flavor exclusive with LesserEvil: All About The Elote.

Thrive Market already sells dozens of LesserEvil-branded products, including its Sun Poppers and Paleo Puffs. But, over the past year, the companies started working together on a co-branded popcorn line whose flavors include The Dynamic Duo (a sweet and salty mix), OMG Olive Oil, Himalayan Gold and Himalayan Pink Salt.

Engleman spoke to Modern Retail about collaborating on new flavors and why “a united front” is key when working with other brands. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What led you to create this collaboration with LesserEvil?
Most of our product development really started with our member feedback. Our members loved our Thrive Market movie theater popcorn, which are actually kernels that you pop yourself. That was such a hit with our members that we found our members really looking… [for] a popped popcorn option within our brand. So that led us to look into, what are our options for… bring[ing] that to light?

…We often like to reach out to our partners and say, ‘Hey, we’re kind of considering doing this. Is this something you’re interested in being a part of? Or would you maybe point us in a different direction?’ LesserEvil is definitely a values- and mission-aligned business, just like ours. They, hands down, are a well-known and trusted innovator in the popcorn space, in the snack space with different flavors, different pack sizes. They’re also helping push the envelope on sustainability. And so with that, we also had a value alignment on the ingredients front and sourcing standards. That… led us to think that LesserEvil would be the best partner for us to take this kind of co-branded approach.

What did the process of building this popcorn together look like?
Elote is a new, fun, unique flavor that our Thrive Market team worked closely with LesserEvil to develop. That went through different tasting rounds… making tweaks to the product until everyone was really excited about where it had ended up from a flavor standpoint. And then once it got there, as well as the other products that we’re launching — which include an olive oil, a Himalayan pink salt, Himalayan gold and a sweet and salty — that’s when we hop into moving forward with the paperwork that helps inform our packaging, our launch strategy, and really bring the product to life…

End to end, [it was] a little bit over a year from those first conversations to getting the product finished and live on site and available to our members.

What did you learn from that first Beyond Meat chili launch? How are you applying this to future launches?
I think truly making it a collaboration so that both teams feel like you’re bringing your prized project to life… And the more that we can lean in together to celebrate it — whether that’s on social or brands announcing it with press releases — it really just helps show a united front. The fact that it truly was done together is something that went really well with the Beyond Meat collaboration and something we’re definitely trying to replicate with LesserEvil.

Do you see increased sales on your site when launching these new products?
Definitely any time that our brands get some love and some publicity, it helps draw attention to our larger offering. That’s always a positive, especially when they’re products that maybe members might use together. You know… someone stocking up on chilis, maybe they’re also interested in some tortilla chips to round [it] out and make a meal or a snack or something like that. So we definitely do see a halo effect around other relevant products, when big news like these great collaborations are announced.