31 August 2018 Courier Weekly

If Glossier made incontinence underwear

PLUS: Coconut oil – Fintech talent – Restaurant produce – Beautubers

Stylish branding for embarrassing products

The trend for boring products getting slick makeovers continues. This time, items usually purchased at pharmacies – perhaps ordered with a hushed voice – are getting an aspirational upgrade. Incontinence pants, erectile dysfunction pills and condoms are all employing the Glossier treatment (block colours, san serif fonts, minimalist design) to position themselves as a lifestyle accessory rather than a necessity.

These are all products with high repeat purchases, making it easier to produce in bulk, split up and deliver direct to consumers’ doors at a cheaper price point than incumbent competitors.

Will Herlands – who previously worked for direct-to-consumer contact lens company Hubble – launched incontinence underwear brand Willow in 2017 and has gone on to raise £2m. He reckons bigger brands are missing a trick by not providing the older generation – who typically control around half of all consumer packaged goods spending in the US – with products that emphasise aesthetics. ‘One of the lessons from direct-to-consumer companies is that if you provide customers the opportunity, people will respond to thoughtfully designed products,’ he says.

Pure poison: the headlines surrounding coconut oil

Headlines following a Harvard professor’s assertion that coconut oil is ‘one of the worst foods you could eat’ have been causing headaches for coconut products startups.

Like many reports on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods in the media, the study is not widely agreed upon in scientific circles. Many have questioned the veracity of the claims.

The impact on shopping habits is yet to be seen, but some small brands have released statements to reassure customers. ‘So often in the media we’re exposed to a mixture of conflicting results from research on so many products,’ coconut products brand Lucy Bee said in a statement. ‘Consuming coconut oil isn’t going to cause illness or death when consumed.’

Arthur Gallego, director of corporate consumers at one of the largest coconut product brands in the market, Vita Coco, told Courier that the reports on coconut oil are ‘sensationalist, extreme, and ultimately a disservice to consumers.’ Harry Thuillier, founder of ice cream brand Oppo which uses coconut oil in its recipes said that the reports ‘sound like someone looking for click-bait. I wouldn’t trust their opinion.’

In reality, coconut oil has a similar profile to butter and should be consumed accordingly. Vita Coco recommends a maximum consumption of 22g per day.

Another Brexit talent squeeze

For a long time, fintech’s shining star has been London – online banks and payments companies such as Monzo, Transferwise and Revolut are a few examples that have flourished in the UK capital. But the sector has always struggled with talent, relying heavily on foreign workers due to the limited number of developers in the UK workforce. Of the 76,500 fintech workers in the UK, 42% come from overseas, according to new research from Innovate Finance, a fintech trade body.

Now, with Brexit on the horizon, there are fears a further squeeze on talent could push UK-based firms to set up shop overseas.

Innovate Finance says a potentially more restrictive immigration system would make the UK less attractive for fintech businesses. Almost half of the companies it surveyed said they are planning to ‘take action’, with the vast majority (86%) saying they were considering relocating outside of the UK.

Curiously, despite uncertainty from the companies themselves, investment in the fintech sector has actually picked up in the UK. In 2017, fintech companies raised £1.4bn, up more than 150% on the previous year.

Changing restaurant buying habits

Economic and political shifts can impact restaurant buying habits in interesting ways.

Skift Table, which reports on the restaurant trade, released a report this week saying that small sandwich and cafe chains in the US are now prioritising local produce in response to increased trucking costs (as a bonus for these businesses, ‘eating local’ is also bang on trend).

Wastage is another area being tackled, to help restaurants place more efficient produce orders or even make money from leftover food. Swedish app Karma is a platform for restaurants to sell prepared items after service hours for a cut price, while Winnow is an app which tracks how much food is thrown away and helps restaurants to adjust order quantities.

The YouTube beauty influencer machine unravels

Marlena Stell, founder of the Makeup Geek cosmetics brand, released a video on Youtube this week saying that brands are being held to ransom by influencers. She alleges that her brand stopped receiving support from influencers after it was unable or unwilling to pay the £46,000 per-video fee some are requesting.

Another unidentified brand has reportedly said images of its products being thrown in the trash were shared on Snapchat after it refused to pay a fee to an influencer for the products to be promoted. Finally, makeup artist Kevin James Bennett has claimed that he is aware of influencer management companies that offer ‘dedicated negative review[s] of a competitor’s product’.

The saga opens up the debate around whether influencers – which can charge exorbitant fees for products to be mentioned to their audience – are providing a good enough return-on-investment for brands. There are also issues around whether or not these influencers, who are often relatively inexperienced content creators, are properly disclosing their advertising sponsorships.

A number of brands, meanwhile, have entered damage control mode after it emerged that a popular influencer, Laura Lee, had published a number of racist tweets.