Brandless Wants to Sell Unbranded Groceries for $3

But that means Brandless is… the brand, right?

Photo credit: 683440, CC0 Public Domain.

After I posted that story about Amazon Whole Foods potentially “killing brand name food,” I thought about writing a riff on the idea of a world without brands.

There is, of course, no way that we could ever have a world without brands. Products developed branding—which is to say reputation—almost as soon as we started selling them. One person’s dairy might have a better reputation than another person’s, and even if you were the only blacksmith in town, everyone knew that all the smithing came from you. (They literally called you Smith.)

So from my perspective, if Amazon develops its own brand of groceries to sell at Amazon Whole Foods stores, Amazon isn’t necessarily killing General Mills or Kellogg’s. Amazon’s just creating a new brand to compete with the others, the same way it created its own publishing imprints and clothing lines. (Who did you think was behind Lark & Ro?)

Which brings me to Brandless, which I just read about on BuzzFeed:

When you visit Brandless’s website, you learn that they are able to sell products for just $3 each because they’ve eliminated “BrandTax:”

BrandTax™ is the hidden costs you pay for a national brand. We’ve been trained to believe these costs increase quality, but they rarely do. We estimate the average person pays at least 40% more for products of comparable quality as ours. And sometimes up to 370% more for beauty products like face cream. We’re here to eliminate BrandTax™ once and for all.

But they’ve trademarked the term BrandTax. It can only be used by the Brandless brand.

They’re also getting away with “everything is just $3” by selling products in smaller containers; they charge $3 for 12 oz of Brandless Organic Creamy Peanut Butter, while my local Safeway is currently charging $3.69 for 16 oz of Adams 100% Natural Creamy Peanut Butter—and I can get it on sale for $2.84 with my loyalty card. (Yes, Adams peanut butter is less expensive per ounce even without the sale.)

Admittedly I didn’t check every product Brandless is offering, but my quick survey—$3 for 4 oz of quinoa chips, $3 for 10 oz of raisins—leads me to assume that they’ve eliminated the BrandTax but have instituted SmallPax. (They do have a deal where you can get two 8-oz bags of corn chips for $3, but Safeway’s selling two 12-oz bags of corn chips for $3.)

Anyway, Brandless is a brand. That’s the point I’m trying to make here, not that their groceries are more expensive than they should be.

And I can’t imagine a world without brands. Even if every product were created by an individual, a la Etsy, we’d still have a few individuals whom everyone wanted to buy from because of their reputation and/or user ratings (and/or marketing budget) and they’d become the top brands. Right?