This is the third part in a series of three stories highlighting the creative ways outdoor businesses have pivoted during the pandemic-era. Their solutions may seem small, but the ideas have huge impacts. Be sure to read part 1 about prAna and part 2 about Selk’bag, too.

United By Blue Co-Founder Mike Cangi never thought he’d be stocking the shelves of his outdoor apparel stores with toilet paper. But it was what his community needed at the start of the pandemic and the Philadelphia-based brand has always been driven by its community's needs. 

United By Blue's flagship store in Philadelphia was transformed into a neighborhood mini market, selling the deconstructed ingredients the brand used to make meals in its café.

United By Blue's flagship store in Philadelphia was transformed into a neighborhood mini market, selling the deconstructed ingredients the brand used to make meals in its café.

Almost overnight in March, United By Blue lost virtually its entire base of 1,200 wholesale accounts, says Cangi, noting that at the time wholesale was its primary sales channel. Not knowing that those accounts would eventually come back, Cangi and his team had to reinvent themselves in order to survive. Because the brand’s two stores had cafés with breakfast, lunch, and brunch menus, it used its connections to independent farms, cooperatives, and restaurant suppliers to transform the flagship store into a neighborhood mini market and takeout service. “[Our suppliers] had no customers all of a sudden because they were only selling to restaurants and a lot of the restaurants were closed,” Cangi says. “They were overstocked with food and supplies in the same way we were overstocked with apparel.”

Through the market concept, United By Blue customers could still order coffee and a breakfast sandwich to go and for delivery. Or they could shop the store for the deconstructed ingredients, such as eggs, bread, cheese, and other fresh, local, and organic foods. United By Blue also started selling recycled paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, and other supplies it could access through their network, even as traditional grocery stores experienced shortages.

White cartons with label that says Grade AA Extra Large eggs inside a green crate

United By Blue deconstructed its menu items and began selling the fresh, local, and sometimes organic ingredients—such as eggs, fruits, vegetables, cheese, and bread—to people in the neighborhood. Their flagship store in Philadelphia was transformed into a mini market.

One of its regular customers, an employee of Independence Blue Shield, the area’s Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance affiliate, took notice. She proposed partnering with United By Blue to create a grocery program so those same bags of fresh foods could reach seniors in the area who were in need. “People were saying how beautiful the groceries were,” Cangi says. “That’s just a testament to the lack of access to fresh food.”

What started as a four-week program grew to a six-week program. Then it grew again. United By Blue is now in its third round of programming and has made close to 15,000 deliveries of bags filled with fresh vegetables, fruits, and other ingredients. Cangi says at first, this new path for his business didn’t make much sense. But it allowed them to keep employees and almost replace the lost revenue from wholesale accounts, while also discovering a new way to enhance their core community-centric mission.

The unexpected partnership and opportunity, Cangi says, will be part of United By Blue’s business model in the future. In fact, he’s in conversation now with other insurance providers. “Being a sustainable living brand has always been at our core,” Cangi says, “and in order to live a sustainable lifestyle, food is a key part of that equation.”

Related

prana-watercolor-1

Coping with COVID: How prAna used watercolors to overcome a pandemic-era challenge

This is the first part in a series of three stories highlighting the creative ways outdoor businesses have pivoted during the pandemic-era. Their solutions may seem small, but the ideas have huge impacts. Read part 2 about Selk'bag here. Read part 3 about United By Blue here. ...read more

person in black puffy snowsuit standing in a snowy field with trees in the distance

Coping with COVID: How Selk’bag’s founder visited Asian factories—without traveling

This is the second part in a series of three stories highlighting the creative ways outdoor businesses have pivoted during the pandemic-era. Their solutions may seem small, but the ideas have huge impacts. Read part 1 about prAna here. Seeing and feeling a new product in person ...read more

ubbcleanups1

United By Blue Congratulates 4Ocean and Encourages Others to Join the #BlueMovement

PHILADELPHIA, PA (FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2018) - United By Blue (UBB), the sustainable outdoor brand founded in 2010 with a mission to remove one pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways for every product sold, celebrates the focus of businesses and individuals across the ...read more

Betsy Bertram wearing UBB shorts at beach

Could these be the perfect shorts for women?

Raise your hand if the only downfall to summer is finding that faultless pair of shorts? United By Blue’s new Anywhere Short is truly for anywhere, anytime, any activity, and any body, that being the operative word. I often feel self-conscious in shorts because they aren’t ...read more

mike+brian7

United By Blue Announces Series A Financing

PHILADELPHIA, PA (THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2018) - United By Blue, a leading outdoor brand known for sustainable products that support ocean and waterway conservation, has raised a Series A financing round. The round was led by Emil Capital Partners with participation from CircleUp, ...read more

roadtripcrew3-10mb

United By Blue to Embark on ‘Bluemovement’ Nationwide Road Trip

PHILADELPHIA, PA (FRIDAY, MAY 25, 2018) - United By Blue (UBB), the sustainable outdoor apparel and lifestyle brand with a mission to remove a pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways for every product sold, is excited to announce their first ever nationwide cleanup ...read more

United By Blue cleanup. Man putting trash into trashbag.

Industry Buzz: United By Blue, Mountain Khakis, Tecnica and Fjällräven, Big Hollow Designs, and a biodegradable cooler

Keep up by reading Industry Buzz. Here are today's top headlines: Have a news tip? Email us at snewsedit@aimmedia.com. The Plastic Impact Promise is catching real traction with more than 70 brands signed up as part of The Alliance. Teton Gravity Research recently wrote about the ...read more

penntreaty8_10MB

United By Blue Announces 2019 Waterway Cleanup Tour Locations

PHILADELPHIA, PA (TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2019) - United By Blue (UBB), the sustainable outdoor apparel brand that pledges to remove a pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways for every product sold, announces today their 2019 Waterway Cleanup Tour. The locations were ...read more

Saguaro National Park sunset

Industry Buzz: #ParkSunsetWars, Vista Outdoor, United By Blue, tariffs, grizzly bears, Half Dome hiker death, and more

Don't go a day without reading Industry Buzz. Here are today's top headlines: Have a news tip? We've created a new form where you can submit tips and story ideas. In a routine filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Vista Outdoor said future boycotts of its outdoor ...read more