Before direct-to-consumer really took off, there was graze, pointing the way to what would become a hot new business model.

graze launched back in 2008 as a subscription service, offering consumers a range of healthy snacks that could be delivered directly to the home or office.

Eleven years on, and the story has been turned on its head. The lion’s share of the company’s revenue is now from retail. In fact, graze is now the UK’s number one healthy snack brand, and operates a successful multichannel model across international markets.

That evolution meant a fundamental rethink about the brand’s marketing messages and the way it communicates with consumers. Last year, when graze was put up for sale, Unilever moved in. So what can be learned from the graze transformation journey?

graze CMO Pia Villa explained to Marketing Week that one of the brand’s initial advantages was its size – being small allows a brand to respond more rapidly than its heavyweight counterparts, but bigger players can tap into the process involved.

“The core principle of agile working is you get a team of experts together, give them a problem and a certain time frame to crack it and they have to come back with a solution,” she said.

“That can be a new product, new packaging or a new tool on our website. Those core principles can apply to any organization,” she added.

And the reasons for the brand’s successful transition into retail in 2015?

“The key factor to our success is looking at both channels as complementary and not competing with each other,” Villa said.

That also means now viewing the DTC side of the business in a completely different way.

“What I mean by complementary,” Villa explained, “is that we view our direct-to-consumer subscription business as a brand-building channel first and foremost.

“When you look at people that experience direct-to-consumer, they are much more likely to buy graze in retail, as they are more loyal, spend more and understand the brand better.”

So retail becomes a channel to drive market penetration. “Ultimately retail is the majority of our business and is also the growth engine and strategy for the future as well,” Villa said.

It’s becoming a well-trodden path, as David Carr of Digitas noted in January’s Admap: DTC brands have relied heavily on cheap social media advertising but as the cost of that has risen, he argued, DTC brands need to scale their way past early-adopter, “digital native” audiences, with many turning to traditional media at the same time as experimenting with more traditional retail and distribution approaches.

Sourced from Marketing Week; additional content by WARC staff