When Kent Waliser, director of vineyard operations for Sagemoor Vineyards, is in Seattle, he asks people if they’ve visited Eastern Washington.
Often, the answer is no.
And while Pasco-based Sagemoor Vineyards, which supplies grapes for some 100 wineries statewide, is well-regarded, Waliser knows there are many who have never heard of it.
Now, Waliser wants to give people a taste of Eastern Washington and the 1,100-acre vineyard with a new service called Selections by Sagemoor.
Launched in December, the service regularly selects three wines that are boxed for delivery to homes.
From its website’s cheeky “Hello, wine drinker” greeting to the vineyard logo on the box to postcards detailing each of the wines, the idea is to encourage new and experienced wine drinkers to learn more about Sagemoor Vineyards from the comfort of their living room, Waliser said.
Sagemoor Vineyards, owned by Naches-based Allan Bros. isn’t the only local business delivering a curated selection of Central Washington products to homes.
Pacific Northwest Fresh and McIlrath Family Farms Produce Delivery, both of Yakima, have also launched in the last year.
The services expose dozens of Yakima Valley products to new consumers locally and across the Pacific Northwest.
“Bringing Eastern Washington to Western Washington through wine is a source of pride,” Waliser said.
The subscription box model has seen tremendous growth in recent years. There are now thousands of such services, offering customized deliveries of everything from pet products to makeup. According to Hitwise, a company that tracks consumer behavior online, monthly page views for subscription box websites reached upward of 40 million during the first part of 2017. Hitwise also estimates there are 5.7 million subscribers of such services.
The draw of these boxes is the blend of convenient online shopping with the thrill of discovery shoppers enjoy when browsing in a traditional retail store, said Sandeep Krishnamurthy, dean of School of Business at the University of Washington-Bothell.
Consumers are “starved for surprise, they are starved for spontaneity,” he said.
Having a box of hand- selected products delivered to one’s door provides the expertise and guidance of a store representative and the element of surprise without the hassles and inconvenience of traveling to a store, he said.
Emily Brown, who started Pacific Northwest Fresh last year, said there are Yakima Valley residents who want fresh local fruit and produce and high-quality artisan foods, but don’t make the time to visit farmers market, fruit stand or other traditional retail outlets.
For example, a West Valley resident might not want to make the 20-minute drive to Buhrmaster Baking Co., 605 E. Nob Hill Blvd., so Pacific Northwest Fresh offers Buhrmaster’s breads as an optional add-on for their weekly deliveries.
“We just want be that liaison” for such small businesses, Brown said.
Brown doesn’t see her business as a replacement for traditional places to buy produce, such as farmers markets.
Rather she’s focused on customers who either lack the time to visit those outlets or simply don’t know how to eat healthy. Every box from Pacific Northwest Fresh features information on how to prepare and store the items along with a recipe.
There needs to be more options for people to get access to fresh produce and locally produced artisan food items, she said.
Bringing attention to local food products is also central for McIlrath Family Farms Produce Delivery, which launched last week.
Owner and operator Laura McIlrath Riel said the company extends the work of McIlrath Family Farms Market, the produce stand her parents established more than three decades ago to see fruit grown on their farm and from local small and hobby farms.
Riel tapped into those existing relationships for the new delivery service.
Riel has a handful of artisan food producers she already works with but is constantly browsing social media to find producers who can be featured in future deliveries. In the company’s first delivery, she included a sample of honey made by a local producer.
“I’m really scouting and working hard to find local people who are starting up,” she said.
Both Riel and Brown offer coffee from Basalt Roasters, a new Yakima roaster opened three months ago by Maddie and Josh Hicks. It features single- origin coffee, meaning it’s made from either a single producer, crop or region. Coffee connoisseurs associate single-origin with higher quality.
The business eventually wants to be sold at local coffee shops, but Maddie Hicks said there are benefits to first partnering with the two produce delivery services that promote local high-quality food.
Sagemoor Vineyards serves as curator and product supplier. The first few boxes, which revolved around different themes, such as a certain grape or winemaking style or featured wineries that used grapes from its vineyards. The most recent shipment from Selections from Sagemoor features a wine made with the vineyard’s new wine lable, Wines by Sagemoor.
While the focus is on promoting the Sagemoor Vineyards brand and the wines made with its grapes, Allan Bros.
CEO Miles Kohl believes it can apply the insight gained from the program to better promote and market the tree fruit grown and packed by Allan Bros.
These local delivery services — Selections by Sagemoor, Pacific Northwest Fresh and McIlarath Family Farms — are so new it will take time to see if they and the farmers and food artisans working with them will see sustained success.
Nationally, subscription box services have had varying results. Some subscription box brands — think Blue Apron or Birchbox — are now as ubiquitous as long-standing retail and food brands. Others died quickly. For example, Amazon ended its Prime Surprise Sweets, a curated box of artisan cookies and candies, after just a year.
Critics of the concept said some companies focused more on making money off the subscription instead of promoting their featured products. Several companies have been audited or been given poor ratings by the Better Business Bureau for billing issues or for making it difficult for customers to unsubscribe.
While Selections by Sagemoor has integrated several features of a subscription box experience, it bills itself as the “un-club experience.” While it promises access to the state’s best wines, it leaves the frequency of deliveries — once to several times a month — to the customer.
“We want to earn the consumers’ confidence,” Waliser said.
Krishnamurthy, the University of Washington- Bothell business school dean, said the products featured in these boxes are unlikely to grow to national prominence.
In other words, a bag of coffee from Basalt Roasters or bread from Buhrmaster Bakery Co. is unlikely to ever gain the same reach as Starbucks or Wonder Bread.
These subscription boxes’ strength lies in helping products and the companies that make them build a niche, Krishnamurthy said.
Finding a successful “niche leads to greater loyalty,” he said. “The more unique you are, the more loyal the customer,” he said.