Freebruary takes a “stone soup” approach to trial

Giveways and shared exposure aim to make driving awareness and trial more efficient for over 100 local brands.

While it doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Sober October,” Freebruary is trying to create a similar movement to get people talking about local brands.

The Freebruary website brings together over 100 local CPG brands, as well as restaurants, personal care brands, small retailers, services and even local franchisees of QSR chains like Mr. Sub. It aims to increase engagement and trial through a range of giveaways, including BOGO offers, in-person giveaways, service calls and restaurant specials.

Freebruary was started by Andrew Kinnear, president and CEO of Yellofruit, a plant-based challenger brand in the frozen dessert aisle.

A lot of initiatives have been launched in recent months to support small business struggling with lockdown measures during the pandemic, but with events and in-store sampling largely off the table, the initiative is zeroing in on replacing the awareness and trial those brands are missing, specifically among those that cannot afford to replace it with big buys in other platforms.

“We thought, ‘there must be other brands that would love to get their products into people’s hands as well?’” he says.

Kinnear tells strategy he sold the venture like a “stone soup” of marketing, referring to the old European fable where villagers boil a stone, and encourage people from neighbouring towns to pitch in with their own ingredients, ultimately creating something out of nothing. So, when a brand does make a sale to its customer base, communicates with its email list or does an interview in the media, it also promotes Freebruary to them, hopefully earning exposure for everyone else in the pot.

While the incentives are an important aspect of bringing it consumers, sharing the exposure between brands is what gives it momentum – and its not just through the brands’ email list. When users who log in to digital flyer app – and Freebruary partner – Reebee to check the flyers for the weekend, they will also see a banner. When they click through, they’ll be exposed to brands and businesses, which is very simple to execute for partners like Reebee.

“Yellofruit has an offer, just like everyone else, but it’s us sharing our audience with the other brands and businesses and them doing the same that seems to be creating the magic,” Kinnear says, adding that is one way more established businesses could take part. “Big Canadian brands should get in on it to deliver value to value seekers. That additional audience helps all the small brands.”

Caddle and Sampler have similar programs planned, he adds, and have combined audiences well into six digits across their flyer, couponing and sampling apps. The audience for Freebruary is Canadians looking to support local and small businesses, but more specifically, those whose are more driven by value and the novelty of trying new products.

“The ‘couponer’ types got on board pretty hard last week and really started engaging on Instagram in anticipation for launch, so we may see a split between those in it for the BOGO and those in it to keep their small town businesses alive,” Kinnear says.

He says partners like manufacturing association Ontario Made got on board early to share with their members. Following that, the Retail Council of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Canadian Health Food Association and Distribution Canada also declared their support. 

To further incentive interest from the brands themselves, the CFIB will be giving away a 3-month membership, Sampler will be giving away credit to run a sampling program on its platform and Caddle will give away survey design, fielding and insights reporting.

Kinnear says the program has legs to make it an annual affair, but for now he is going about growing the email list, with the plan to re-engage the brands and supporters to make it bigger and better next year, should it take off. On the consumer side, he admits he did not know what to expect, but that the early signs of 2,000 email subscribers, is promising given it only launched on Feb. 1.