Cutting out the middleman: a business model revolution

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When Lean Cuisine launched in 1981, my parents got all their food at Bruno’s Grocery, a five-minute Volkswagen Bug ride from their condo.

Bruno’s had three frozen aisles. At the end of one of those aisles were all the ready-to-eat meals available for young Allen and Stella: Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, and a couple others.

My parents might have seen the “Try Lean Cuisine: Good tasting entrees at less than 300 calories” marketing campaign on the local news. But unless Bruno’s carried the meals, my parents would have had no way of buying them.

Because shelf space was scarce, Lean Cuisine needed to sell Bruno’s on the idea of carrying healthy ready-to-eat meals.

You know who wields the most economic power by noticing whose names are attached to the newest buildings in town. In Birmingham, it was the Bruno Family. Across the country, local grocery chain moguls were supporting parks and hospitals and theaters. Competition was minimal and groceries were recession-proof.

Over the next few decades, Bruno’s faced increasingly more competitors as Walmart and others grew into behemoths – doubling and tripling shelf space supply in Birmingham. But the new shelf space supply never outpaced the shelf space demand. Hence why Maxwell House and Jell-O and and Kool-Aid and Honey Bunches of Oats all got rolled up into one conglomerate; it took banding together to fight back against the pricing power of shelf space scarcity.

And then the Internet came along. The doubling and tripling of shelf space supply got multiplied by several magnitudes. Nowadays, shelf space is an endless scroll of pixels on an iPhone.

Shelf space scarcity is dead. Distribution is a commodity. Attention is the new scarce resource.

Before Amazon, Lean Cuisine’s customers were grocery store executives. Sure, they ran Super Bowl ads; but what really mattered was that the product was on the shelf when my parents went to Bruno’s.

After Amazon, my parents had an explosion of choice. Lean Cuisine needed to convince my mom to choose their meals over the hundreds of other options proliferating everywhere.

Nowadays, it’s Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin who’re building the hospitals. Companies pay the Facebook Tax in order to convince you to buy their product over the other 1,000 options popping up on Instagram. Companies pay the Google Tax to appear at the top of search results. Your attention – not Bruno’s shelf space – is now the product.

And it’s not enough to buy a customer’s attention once. Brands have to sell their products to the same customers again and again in order to make money. To keep the customer’s attention, they’re up against competing products, email inbox saturation, Instagram ads, web ads, cat memes, Trump tweets, news and everything in between screaming for mental headspace.

What’s the new business model innovation? How do brands maintain a relationship with their customers in this hectic environment? How do they repeatedly sell to their customers over and over again?

Two ways. First, by having a real relationship with their customers. Second, by getting them onto recurring plans.

We at Bottle want to help brands text with their customers, and keep the customers ordering every week.

Bottle is the best way for meal prep businesses to sell to their customers week after week. Combining a simple text-based CRM with powerful subscription, e-commerce, and marketing tools, Bottle helps you grow your revenue, retain customers, and keep your cool.