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Bluebird: How To Reduce Sourcing Costs For Sustainable Brands

Published March 21, 2023
Published March 21, 2023

Consumer sentiment demands that brands make more sustainable packaging choices, but it doesn’t stop there. They need to substantiate their sustainability claims with transparency and data, especially if they want to thrive in retail. Responding to these pressures, brands are dealing with increased sourcing costs and complexity of communicating their decisions into authentic, fact-based sustainability narratives.

Winner of the 2022 BeautyMatter NEXT Award for Best Impact Facilitator, Bluebird, is one of the emerging technology solutions designed to help. The brand was founded in 2021 by Glossier alum Jamie McCroskery alongside co-founders Anisha Gupta and DJ Lee to create a new way for brands to decrease the cost and climate impact of their packaging.

"Brands are seeing huge shifts in how they do business," shared McCroskery. "Packaging costs are through the roof, especially for growing brands. And just buying more sustainable packaging isn’t enough—they have to articulate why it’s helping the environment to stay relevant with customers and convince retailers they should be a part of their sustainable collections. Otherwise, you’re lost in the sea of everyone talking about PCR, only to have to redo your packaging or marketing messaging every year when retailer requirements change or your customers catch wind of something new and shiny like refillables.”

Bluebird is changing the paradigm for how brands get access to affordable packaging and market their decisions. By leveraging huge supplier networks and data algorithms that compute climate impact and recyclability, brands no longer have to hunt for innovations, do competitive bidding, or get sustainability data to use in marketing.

BeautyMatter sat down with Bluebird co-founder and CEO Jamie McCroskery to learn about what they've built.

What was the impetus for launching Bluebird and how does it work? 

Anisha and I worked with dozens of beauty brands of all sizes, and we saw how much time they were spending finding affordable, more sustainable packaging. And at the end of the day, they would either not get the packaging they wanted, miss an innovation they could use, spend more than they wanted, and not really tell a compelling sustainability story about it—which is sad, because that was the whole point.

The impact to their business was severe: ops/PD teams at larger brands wouldn’t hit margin targets, and indie brands would struggle with cash flow and raising money because their margins were weak. And the worst part was that they lost loyalty and relevance to customers, often without realizing it, because they couldn’t communicate a believable sustainability story.

It seemed crazy that trying to make a positive impact as a brand was so difficult and expensive, especially for leaders at these brands who care deeply about sustainability. We spoke with numerous founders who felt they were “too small” or “too busy” to be able to build sustainable products, and just threw their hands up and went with what their vendors told them was best. Given Anisha’s background in sustainability, product development, and supplier networks, and mine in technology, we saw an opportunity to help brands reduce the cost of their more sustainable packaging and communicate the impact of those purchases through software.

How is your platform differentiated from similar offerings? 

All the existing sustainability tools out there either help brands do corporate-level carbon accounting or are professional-grade life cycle assessment tools built for sustainability consultants. Online marketplaces still make it hard to find innovations or non-stock packaging, get competitive pricing, and get real sustainability data for substantiating claims.

In essence, they all still leave brands with tons of work and don’t fully solve the problem of reducing packaging cost or sustainability communication.

Bluebird is purpose-built for PD & Ops teams. Instead of doing all of that work, they can

  • Upload production products and get proactive offers from vendors to improve both cost and climate impact.
  • Design climate-friendly products from the start, find affordable vendors, and then have the data they need to tell compelling sustainability stories.

Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency and validation of ESG claims. How have you seen brands meet consumer demands around sustainability?  

It’s worth backing up and clarifying what it means to meet consumer demands around sustainability—it’s about loyalty, not about acquisition. Customers don’t search for sustainable products, but they will abandon your brand if you don’t meet their expectations. For example, Nielsen says that 50% of customers have switched brands based on their perception of a brand’s sustainability performance. However, if you do it right, you develop trust, which shows up in metrics like repeat purchase rates, brand affinity, and NPS. Even more importantly, it comes through in getting easier to grow over time. Things just work; customers talk about you, come back, like what you have to say.

So what are consumer demands around sustainability? 

Brands usually ask customers what they want, which is the wrong approach here. Consumers are asking you to show them that you’re doing something so they can trust you and feel good about giving you their dollars again instead of going elsewhere.

Brands really get themselves in a pickle when they follow the latest sustainability innovation trend or only deliver upon what customers ask for directly. They’ll always be chasing the next thing that customers ask for. But even more insidious is that you’ll lose relevance for them, and that’s a hard thing to measure until it’s too late.

The best brands are showing the “why” behind decisions they’re making and backing that up with data to show they’re doing their  homework. Dieux does this well—showing behind-the-scenes decisions of their packaging choice for going to 100% PCR aluminum and why they believe they are right. Versed does a great job as well with using lightweight PCR tubes for products that consumers might be demanding be packaged in glass. When Versed looked at the data, the carbon impact of that choice based on their sourcing location meant that using a heavier format, even if it had higher recyclability, meant that its impact was overall worse.

"Customers don’t search for sustainable products, but they will abandon your brand if you don’t meet their expectations."
By Jamie McCroskery, Co-Founder + CEO, Bluebird

How does the platform work in helping brands inform their product development process?

Bluebird helps brands at three points:

  1. During concepting, brands can find new innovations and evaluate packaging ideas for climate impact and waste in 30 seconds.
  2. During sourcing, brands can connect to preselected vendors who are often more affordable or have innovations typical suppliers don’t.
  3. When launching this product, brands use Shopify plug-ins that show the sustainability of the decisions they made in PD, benchmarked against the market.

Building a sustainable business from the ground up is infinitely easier than it is for legacy brands to become more sustainable. How does Bluebird help brands already in the market facilitate sustainability initiatives?

This is where we’re really focusing our innovative energy. We know it’s hugely complicated and expensive for brands to change.

Instead of having to hire consultants to figure out how sustainable you are, how to improve, then go through all of the work to find feasible sustainability innovations and get competitive rates, and somehow translate this complex work to customer speak, we’ve reduced this process to 3 steps:

  1. Upload your products.
  2. See each product’s climate impact and waste profile compared to the market.
  3. Automatically receive offers from quality vendors that reduce cost, reduce climate impact, and create marketable moments.

We’ve effectively built a better way to do business—think of it as always-on sourcing that drives cost and carbon emissions savings.

Are these environmental and climate considerations having an impact on the bottom line of brands either through COGs or increasing sales?

Both. Here’s the impact we’ve seen:

  • COGS is the huge one. Why? Packaging costs are huge, and brands have to repack things way more than they’d like to admit (which can be insanely expensive). Transportation costs have also skyrocketed, forcing brands to find domestic vendors, which have their own cost implications.
  • Increased sales comes through in two ways: protecting loyalty in DTC, and driving new customer acquisition through better placement with retailers. Customers want to support organizations that share values, and retailers want to showcase brands with loyalty and that improve their image as environmentally friendly.

What should brands have on their radar regarding the future of sustainability in the beauty and wellness category?

The pressure will increase. More retailers will come out with requirements, change them faster, vendors will pitch new things, customers will learn new things every day (or be misinformed faster). I haven’t even mentioned regulations like anti-greenwashing laws in Europe and the FTC’s review of Green Guides here in the US.

Throughout all of these changes, your products are on the shelf for years. The only way to stay ahead of it is to make decisions based on data, be transparent with your customers about the fact you’re actually using data to make decisions, and keep an eye out for ways to reduce your impact and costs continuously.

You have a couple of years under your belt. What accomplishment are you most proud of to date? 

Climate impact, first and foremost. We’ve helped dozens of brands prevent carbon emissions—for example, Experiment Beauty reduced emissions by 78% without significant cost increases. This only happens if you have happy brands—45% of customers said they’d be really disappointed if they no longer had Bluebird. This is pretty good for software, but we want to improve that significantly.

What's next for Bluebird? 

We’re laser focused on reducing the cost of more sustainable packaging and enabling easy sustainability storytelling for these purchases. Now that we’ve proven the model, we want to make it accessible for all brands—no matter what size they are. That’s why we’re making it effectively free for brands to get started and making it faster to upload products and get cost, climate, and waste saving offers from suppliers. We also know that brands are looking for ingredient and contract manufacturing partners, which are on our radar.

And for vendors, we know this is a huge change in the way they do business—instead of having to prospect and email their existing customers every year, they can have a single place to find active decisions brands are making and get in contact if they can help. They can own the relationship, which works best for everyone.

We think we’ve unlocked a better way for brands and their suppliers to bring more sustainable products to market, at lower costs. That’s something everyone wants.