With all her new friends in Tel Aviv seemingly launching startups, Canadian immigrant Emily Berg was itching to get in on the fun. But it took a war in Gaza for her idea to crystallize. Today, a few months after launching her first-of-its-kind, Israeli-based subscription box business, this 29-year-old entrepreneur is already turning a profit.
Blue Box targets Diaspora Jews who are interested in supporting small Israeli businesses that have something beyond decent products to sell. In exchange for a set fee (about $40 every month), subscribers receive a boxful of Made-in-Israel products, carefully curated by Berg and delivered to their door. The box might include organic olive oils one month, handmade soaps and lotions another, and artisan jams the next. What will definitely not be inside, insists Berg, are mass-produced or touristy tchotchkes.
What distinguishes Blue Box from most other subscription box models, she says, is the element of surprise: None of her customers know in advance what they’ll be getting in their gift box.
“When I choose what to put in my boxes each month, I have my eyes on small businesses that are socially progressive, environmentally friendly and created by individuals with interesting stories who live in special places,” explains Berg. Each month, her gift box features one particular Israeli vendor.
For that reason, when her subscribers receive their monthly gift box, it includes not only an assortment of carefully curated boutique products, but also a postcard that introduces the vendor who created them.
This might include some interesting family trivia (one of her vendors is the great-grandson of Yoel Moshe Salomon, the founder of Petah Tikva – the oldest settlement in the modern-day Jewish state), or it might spell out social-minded employment policies (one vendor makes a point of hiring single moms, while another gives priority to women from nearby Bedouin villages).
“When they open their boxes, I want my customers to get to know the families behind the businesses and get a sense of the place where these products are being made – so that on their next trip to Israel, they may even stop by for a visit,” says Berg.
Her idea began taking shape last summer, following an email her parents forwarded to her. “It was from the Toronto Jewish Federation, urging members to support businesses in the south of Israel, which were going through really hard times,” she relates, referring to the 50-day summer war. “The email provided links to some of these businesses, but when I clicked on them it turned out the links were either broken or the businesses were completely unequipped to ship their products overseas. I understood, though, that there was a great desire among Jews abroad to support local businesses in Israel, and it was just a matter of finding the right way to do it.”
A very popular business model in the United States and Canada, the subscription box business hasn’t taken off in Israel yet.
A big part of the fun for Berg is exploring the country, discovering new ideas and products. “Very often, I’ll be in the car and see a sign that says ‘Honey’ – and I’ll just head off in that direction,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll discover a product in a store, and often it’s just word of mouth.”
But just because a product is one-of-a-kind and well crafted doesn’t guarantee that it will pass muster. “Not long ago, I was visiting a factory to check out a product I liked,” recalls Berg, “and I saw that the conditions for the workers there weren’t great, so I crossed it off the list.”
Without any advertising, Berg says she now has 50 subscribers, mainly in Canada, though she has begun tapping into the U.S. market.
She moved to Israel three years ago after falling in love with the country on a Taglit-Birthright trip. After a short stint in Jerusalem, she relocated to Tel Aviv, where she now lives with her Israeli-born boyfriend. Until now, she has worked mainly in public relations and grant writing.
The name Blue Box was inspired by the Jewish National Fund charity box she remembered as a child at her grandmother’s home. “For me, that box always symbolized our connection to Israel. And even though this business has nothing at all to do with charity, I see it as a way of helping Jews in the Diaspora connect to Israel. A very new way of connecting, in fact.”