'WaterLoot' mystery box aims to break up monotony, boost local businesses

Students at Wilfrid Laurier University are selling "WaterLoot" boxes to help local businesses get their products in front of new customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Project started by Wilfrid Laurier University students

Grayson Hunter, Tyler De Sousa and Claire Richardson (not pictured) are the founders of WaterLoot. (Submitted by Tyler De Sousa)

When every day feels the same, why not shake things up by arranging for a mysterious box to arrive at your house?

That's the idea behind WaterLoot, a monthly "mystery box" of local products curated and delivered by a group of business students at Wilfrid Laurier University.

"It's a means for people to support small business in the area during COVID and also to help them explore the region," said Tyler De Sousa, one of WaterLoot's founders.  

The boxes retail for about $50 a pop and typically contain about six different items, De Sousa says.

Most of the contents are edible, although De Sousa says past boxes have also contained non-perishables such as tote bags and beeswax wraps.

WaterLoot boxes are packed up and ready to go. (Tyler De Sousa)

Local brands sell their products to De Souza and his team at a wholesale or bulk price and the students handle the packaging and delivery.

The main draw for businesses is the opportunity to put their goods in front of new customers, De Sousa said.

"You don't really know a product until you have it in your hands and you get to try it," said De Sousa.

De Sousa and co-founders launched the WaterLoot box last month and have sold about 75 so far. They're also starting to get into themed boxes, such as a "self-care" box currently available for $22, De Sousa said.

Local boxes grow in popularity

WaterLoot isn't the only local box to launch in recent months.  

The Phlippens sauce company collects local foods such as garlic, coffee, chicken stock, granola, nuoc cham, cheese and even charcoal. They're packaged into a "Phlippens Family Box," as CBC Kitchener-Waterloo food columnist Andrew Coppolino reported.

For people living in Guelph and Rockwood, the Guelph Box offers a similar idea on a weekly basis. The box retails for about $100 and contains a mix of fresh and shelf-stable food items, such as coffee, summer sausage and honey.

Co-founder Josh Gray said every box contains some repeat items and some new ones, to appeal to new and returning customers.

More than 2,000 boxes have been sold since late March, Gray said.

"That's been pretty cool for us we never thought it would get this big," said Gray.

Josh Gray says the "local favourites" box includes a mix of local food items. (Submitted by Josh Gray)

De Souza said he thinks the mystery boxes have become popular as consumers become more interested in shopping locally.  

"I think the pandemic has really shown our kind of over-reliance on the global community when we have all of these amazing resources right in our own backyard," said De Souza.

"If [people] know their neighbour owns an ice cream shop, why would they buy Haagen Daaz from the grocery store if they can support their neighbours?"

Although neither Gray nor De Sousa have a set timeline for their projects, they each say they hope to keep the box businesses running as long as possible.

"We're just taking it day by day right now," said Gray. "When we started this project, we started it as a goal to help local businesses during this time and we're going to continue that mandate as long as we can."


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