H-E-B’s reusable bag causes fashion frenzy

Discussion
Source: H-E-B video
Mar 05, 2018
Tom Ryan

H-E-B on Friday drew long lines and a quick sellout for a surprise limited-edition item. No, it wasn’t some ultra-hyped designer collaboration that drew the crowds. The item was a $2.00 reusable tote bag featuring two iconic photos of Selena, the late singer who ranks as one of the most celebrated entertainers in Mexican-American and Hispanic communities in the U.S.

One side of the recyclable bag featured a black-and-white photo of Selena singing, the other another iconic photo of the Texas legend adorned with the words “Queen of Cumbia” in bold, pink lettering.

H-E-B first revealed the collection on its Facebook page last Wednesday with the reveal including a video featuring Regina Garcia, spokesperson for H-E-B, and Suzette Quintanilla-Arriaga, Selena’s sister. H-E-B donated $25,000 to the Selena Foundation, and partial proceeds from the bag sales went to the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastal Bend.

The bags went on sale at 9 a.m. on Friday at select locations and online. Long lines arrived before the openings. Each store reportedly sold a few hundred bags each. Lines snaking around H-E-B’s aisles found their way to social media, and many locations reportedly were sold out within 15 minutes. The retailer’s website crashed due to high volume during the day. By 4:15 p.m., H-E-B announced that the bags had all sold out.

The bags were soon found selling on eBay at asking prices of up to $75, and numerous consumers complained to H-E-B on its Facebook page about their challenges purchasing the item.

Department stores have come out with tote bags supporting various causes over the years, but this appears to be the first time a grocer has come out with a limited-edition charity bag. Reusable bags only began arriving at grocers in the mid-to-late 2000s. Many grocers still don’t sell reusable bags, although Whole Foods and Publix are among the few that regularly update their bag offerings with seasonal varieties.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is H-E-B’s limited-edition, charity bag a program the grocery channel should look to build on? What other marketing opportunities do you see for reusable shopping bags?

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26 Comments on "H-E-B’s reusable bag causes fashion frenzy"


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Trevor Sumner
Guest

The program is a massive win and absolutely should be expanded. Of course, you need to balance how limited the supply is to make sure it is coveted but also leads to the maximum amount of follow-on brand impressions and doesn’t lead to disappointment for most. This is an ingenious way to turn customers into advertisers for the H-E-B brand.

One of Seamless’ early innovations was providing branded bags to restaurants to help advertise to customers, especially those that didn’t order via Seamless. This is basically free billboard space, as customers reuse them for more than just the grocery visit. Brands in the luxury space have understood this for years, from the Orange Hermes bag to Chanel’s classic black one, and people know Lulelemon’s reusable totes on sight.

The program is revenue-generating, press-worthy with coverage at the national level and for a good cause. It appeals to a valuable Millennial audience, reaching new audiences for H-E-B and getting customers early with a high lifetime value. What’s not to like?

Richard Layman
Guest
7 months 15 days ago

The bag gets buzz, sure, but it doesn’t appear to market H-E-B very much.

Max Goldberg
Guest

While I personally don’t get the need to have a limited edition reusable grocery bag, any effort to reduce waste and help local causes should be saluted. Other retailers should follow H-E-B’s lead and explore these opportunities.

Jon Polin
BrainTrust

Let’s remember that part of the magic of this promo is that it was a first time and a limited edition. If the market becomes saturated with copycat bags, the value goes down. If H-E-B can find the right frequency (not too often) and more iconic celebs that resonate with their audience, then this promo should have room for repeat success.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Of course the company can continue to build on this theme, with additional causes and/or celebrities. A great public relations move no matter how one looks at it.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

I think it is brilliant for getting press and social media play. Certainly smart for connecting with a younger audience. The question is, will this translate into sales or were the purchasers of the bag opportunists seeking to sell on eBay?

Selling reusable bags is a very smart way of reducing costs. Testing different ways to make a mundane bag more exciting and desired should be ongoing. Turning a cost center (paper or plastic) into a profit center, along with traveling branding is an intelligent business move.

I applaud the effort.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Beyond the tremendous success of this promotion and the commitment to sustainability, the celebration of an iconic Latino performer is definitely to be applauded. Congratulations to H-E-B for finding their path away from a paper bag.

I envision others replicating this success and for H-E-B to identify other legends to celebrate in a similar manner. The key is to ensure such a charity bag program addresses the key criteria that H-E-B followed: 1.) Choose the right cause/performer; 2.) Create excitement with limited edition availability; 3.) Ensure the commitment to sustainability extends across the entire organization.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

H-E-B has always been a terrific community-focused organization. The limited edition charity bag that pays tribute to Selena is a win-win-win for H-E-B, local charities and Selena’s still adoring fans.

I first witnessed reusable shopping bags many years ago in Ireland when Superquinns introduced the concept. Feargal Quinn tells the story about a woman expressing concern about the bag colors. Feargal responded that Superquinns was aware of the color issue and offered red, green and blue bags (meat, fruit/vegetables and seafood, respectively). The woman answered that she wanted colors to match her wardrobe, not the bag’s contents. Obviously, what’s on the bag is as important as what’s in the bag, a lesson well-learned from H-E-B. I expect more of the same.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust
Phil Chang
Retail Influencer, Speaker and Consultant
7 months 15 days ago

Disclaimer : I am a fan of H-E-B. I really like those guys. So naturally, I’ll drone on and on about how cool they are, or what a cool idea this is. It IS pretty cool, but not because it’s a really well-designed bag, or because I collect reuseable grocery bags or any other reason someone might get excited about grocery bags.

Having said that, the tiny insight behind this action is a great example of the small pieces of data floating around organizations that could be something bigger. Someone at H-E-B figured out that this one little thing could create a moment that consumers would love. So here’s the thing. Don’t expand on this (unless the data shows you should). Find more little data points like this that consumers love and do a lot of little things. That’s how organizations are going to win. Build infrastructure that allows you to recognize the “little” data bits that turn into these moments.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Love your suggestion, Phil. Organizations should look for these small data nuggets and drive big opportunities. Too often organizations look at the obvious for the BIG wins … we have found that when clients engage our firm (or similar experts) as an outside adviser, data discoveries go far beyond the surface and reveal genuine insights that propel the organization forward.

Trevor Sumner
Guest

Phil, what data do you need? There are lines around the block. It’s sold out. It’s a hit with press. It’s a hit on social. It targets a valuable audience that’s hard to reach and extremely valuable. And it promotes charity.

I find that retail as an industry seems caught in lots of little wins that don’t scale, and often don’t double down on the successes that matter. As long as you don’t oversaturate I don’t see the downside, especially as others will copy this tactic.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust
Phil Chang
Retail Influencer, Speaker and Consultant
7 months 15 days ago

Hey Trevor, I think you misunderstand me. I really like this. I want retailers to take away from this that they shouldn’t be building infrastructure now to make a new bag every 3 months. I want them to realize that there are more “other” moments like this that surprise and delight an audience. I’m after creating a million little moments just like this one that creates lines around the block, that sell out and hit with the press. That’s what scales.

Richard Layman
Guest
7 months 15 days ago

Whole Foods used to put out new types of bags pretty frequently, probably at least 4 times/year. I don’t think they do so now. Now they probably just draw from and make runs from their existing “portfolio” of bags.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Smart, smart, smart. Localizing and fashionizing a reusable bag is a great idea. Aligning it with a music icon which appeals to their core target market is an even better idea. Pricing it so that communities can support it makes it even better. Not doing any focus group preparation or getting any idea for the demand created is simply poor implementation. H-E-B should be manufacturing more of these for a “limited” second release, and then considering doing a fashion version each year to benefit from this product, brand and alignment that they have created with this great cause.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

This campaign has been a sensation; it was all over my Facebook feed this weekend. Anything that can lessen the tedium of shopping for groceries is a win for consumers, and this is a genius marketing move by H-E-B. Let’s hope that other companies steal this idea.

Joan Treistman
BrainTrust

I think the broader concept is the opportunity from time to time to leverage something iconic, whether it’s a person, a movement, a logo… I recall that Target promoted garments by Missoni and they sold out quickly to people who were regular Target shoppers at Target and those who never shopped there. It made a big splash and probably introduced a new customer to Target.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

The limited-edition, charity bag program was a phenomenal hit and H-E-B should build upon the momentum. The reusable bag movement has created another potential revenue stream for grocers. Trader Joe’s has a cult-like following for its extensive line of whimsical and regional focused reusable bags.

Holidays, seasons, and pop culture topics and other charity causes create unlimited potential themes for reusable bags. When you get people to pay for bags that advertise your brand, that is a marketer’s dream.

I have been surprised by the lack of interest in the state of Florida, where I currently reside, for sustainable alternatives to plastic. Many states/cities and retailers are now pushing a “no plastic” agenda and penalizing (5 cents) for a bag and giving credit for a BYOB (bring your own bag (not bottle)). The H-E-B idea is not only a great marketing tool but a sustainable eco-friendly statement.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Nice PR and frankly I don’t think H-E-B is expecting it. I think the key is to do the “limited edition” in a limited manner. Over saturation will just weaken its appeal. I am sure there are a list of charities reaching out to H-E-B and other brands hoping to do copycat programs now.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

The idea of taking relatively mundane, everyday items (a reusable grocery bag) and turning it into fashionable work of art, coveted by everyone in the community is absolutely brilliant! Kudos to H-E-B for pulling this off! The key was not only the limited nature of the product but choosing the right celebrity/charity to promote with it coupled with intimate knowledge of their customers. This might not have worked for other brands the same way. It really shows the importance of knowing your customers and closely examining the data you have to pull out a nugget that so quickly turns viral and bring you tremendous recognition!

David Weinand
BrainTrust

This is a cool concept and the benefit of the PR around the charity aspect is very smart. Don’t know why having a bag that draws association to something is such a draw, but it is … years ago I brought home reusable bags from the Whole Foods Del Mar and San Diego stores (they were branded as such), and I was the coolest dad in the world…. So the idea is not new — but done smartly, it can add tremendous brand value.

Richard Layman
Guest
7 months 15 days ago

Trader Joe’s makes bags that reference each local market that they serve, such as DC, and sell those bags as well as non-area specific ones. (It happens I pay attention to bags as an element of supermarket marketing and branding because I am on the board of a public market.)

Dan Raftery
Guest

Another great idea from the innovators at H-E-B. I’m curious to see the second limited edition.

Regarding the question about other marketing opportunities for reusable shopping bags — charity golf outings or any fund-raising event where the attendees get a “goody bag.” I help put one together every year for a local youth group and know how hard it is to find a donated bag. These things get reused by the event-goers. Longer shelf life than social media.

Richard Layman
Guest
7 months 15 days ago

Your text states that many grocers don’t even sell reusable bags. I doubt that is true of any major chain, and likely most independents as well. Today I saw bags at Aldi that called out prominently how the bags were made from plastic bottles that had been recycled.

Seth Nagle
BrainTrust

Great idea and one H-E-B will surely repeat. Now it’s time to sit back and watch other regional retailers put their twist on it.

Min-Jee Hwang
BrainTrust

This is an example of a company proving how well they know their customer base. Selena is a legend, especially in H-E-B’s home state. I wouldn’t be surprised if they launched other Selena charity products in the near future. If someone else’s image had been on the bag, it is unlikely many would have lined up to get a low cost reusable shopping bag. This is a great way to infuse sustainable practices into a limited time only shopping experience. If other retailers decide to follow in H-E-B’s footsteps, they will need to do extensive customer research to learn what shoppers care about to encourage a similar frenzy.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
BrainTrust

Too bad this is an isolated example of a grocer hitting home run with shoppers! Fast food chains have used LTOs to drive exposure for years!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Turning a cost center (paper or plastic) into a profit center, along with traveling branding is an intelligent business move."
"Don’t expand on this (unless the data shows you should). Find more little data points like this that consumers love and do a lot of little things."
"This is an example of a company proving how well they know their customer base."

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