A a dash of spice at your doorstep

Raw Spice Bar delivers fresh spices to subscribers' doors every month

With a youthful exuberance, Rebecca Myers talks about the ups and downs of her first year at the helm of a one-woman food start-up in a new and fast-growing global industry.

"It's been really fun and exciting, but also a lot of hard work and effort," Myers, founder of RawSpiceBar, a subscription box service, said from her home in Los Angeles.

In January, Myers started making monthly mailings of small quantities of three freshly ground spice blends and rubs to subscribers who pay $6 USD a month for RawSpiceBar's service.

Also included in the 'boxes' (which are in fact re-sealable envelopes) are kitchen-tested recipes for each spice, and a brief history of its uses and regional origins.

Myers claims to have had some 5,000 subscribers to her new Internet-driven service over the past 11 months, with a current subscribership of around 3,500.

"Most of them are from the United States," said Myers. "But we're getting more people from Canada. I'd say we currently have about 500 Canadian subscribers."

Her company also has what Myers calls "a sprinkling" of customers across Europe and Latin America.

A graduate two years ago of a college business program, Myers said she caught the entrepreneurial bug last year while working with small business owners for investment purposes.

The idea to sell spices came forthwith.

"I love spices," she said.  "I've travelled a lot (and) tried many exotic spices."

Equally fast was her decision to use a subscription box service as her business model.

Both a marketing strategy and method of product distribution, subscription boxes - or subcom, for subscription-based commerce - are packages of retail products sent directly to customers on a reoccurring basis.

The number of subscription boxes has multiplied in recent years, mostly in the U.S.

There are now an estimated 600 different categories of products there that target a wide range of clients.

Retail giants like Walmart and Amazon use subscription boxes, as does Birchbox, the industry's most recognizable and valued player.

Founded in 2010 by two other young American women business graduates - Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna of Harvard Business School -  Birchbox was worth a reported $485 million in April 2014.

In addition to developing an attractive, user-friendly website, Myers drew up lists of spices and related recipes that she found on the Internet.

She cold-calls chefs in the specific regions where recipes are from to ask them to collaborate with her (in return for exposure on RawSpiceBar) to ensure the authenticity of flavors and dishes.

"Most of them are really enthusiastic and happy to do it," said Myers.

Among the regions and people's featured in her spices and recipes this first year are IstanbulNavajo, and the Japanese.

According to Myers, her company's trademark is the freshness of the spices.

She and a few occasional employees spend three days a month grinding spices in a rented commercial kitchen in Santa Ana, just south of Los Angeles.

The ground spices are mailed out almost immediately.

Subcom bloggers have remarked on that freshness.

"(When) I opened the little re-sealable envelopes, I could smell them halfway across the room," one wrote recently.

Another wrote that that last month's Istanbul Box "feels like a return to the RawSpiceBar formula I originally fell in love with.

"The spices were excellent, and the recipes introduced me to some new and interesting dishes."

The box, she added, made up for "a few issues" she's had with RawSpiceBar in recent months, "including typos, omitted ingredients, and unclear instructions."

For Calgary marketing expert Karen Hope, that unevenness is likely part of both the allure and downside of a subscription box service for spices.

"Mystery and experimentation are certainly big drivers," said Hope, who runs her own consulting business and often works with clients in the food business.

"At $6 a month, the point price is good (and) it's easy to convince people to give it a try."

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