Emily Schildt on rethinking the IRL grocery experience, becoming a platform for indie CPG, and launching a discovery subscription service
Product State Q&A
Emily Schildt is the Founder & CEO at Pop Up Grocer. She was Co-Founder at Sourdough, Thing of Wonder, and Bitten. She is the former Director of Digital Engagement at Chobani.
EC: PUG’s innovative approach has attracted the attention of buzzy indie CPG products, and Gen Z shoppers. How important is it to speak with your customers?
ES: I've been in CPG for the entirety of my career.
Early in my career, I witnessed firsthand the ability for a passion-led, immigrant founder to make real impact on a category — and the lives of consumers nationwide, with a better-made product.
That did it for me —I've worked exclusively to help better-for-you products with compelling founding stories come to market since.
I think our concept has resonated because people really want to shop in a way that is both more aligned with their values, and that is fun — which is in stark contrast to the chaotic and boring experience of a traditional grocery store or the internet.
We work directly with brands, as opposed to distributors and/or brokers, and our brick & mortar presence puts us in daily communication with consumers — that feedback loop is critical, and made more efficient as a result.
EC: It seems like every brand on your shelves has great packaging. What’s the criteria for becoming a PUG-worthy brand?
ES: And that's not by accident!
Having appealing packaging is one of our three key criteria for selection. It may sound subjective — because it is — but also as we've been doing this for 3+ years now, we understand what interests and attracts our visitors.
Our other criteria are:
1) Is it new and interesting?
Our concept uniquely highlights new products, exclusively. And,
2) Is it made responsibly?
We scrutinize every label to ensure ingredients have been selected with care and consciousness.
As for our categories, they are determined by what we find out there according to our criteria. Our pantry assortment, for example, has grown significantly over the last year — as more and more innovation is happening within staples like pasta, olive oil, rice, and condiments.
EC: You offer a ‘Pop Up Grocer Box’ to let shoppers sample your products. Will you be adding a subscription model?
ES: We've offered boxes for sale each time we've had a pop-up live, and they've sold out every time.
Though, as our pop-ups have only been live for 30 days, we haven't had the opportunity to grow this part of the business much, simply due to the inability to hold inventory.
We're excited to do that now, with the opening of our flagship (in New York City) — and we will introduce subscription in just a couple-few weeks.
It is intentionally a surprise assortment of 6-8 items from within the assortment inside our doors, to reflect the delight of the discovery experience in store.
You may not select mushroom jerky, but if it's given to you and you try it — you might just find that you love it.
“I think our concept has resonated because people really want to shop in a way that is both more aligned with their values, and that is fun — which is in stark contrast to the chaotic and boring experience of a traditional grocery store or the internet.”
- Emily Schildt