A trip to a big-name retailer several years ago infuriated Meg Greenhalgh.
While an undergraduate in the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, she had gone to the store to purchase, among other things, some Clorox wipes.
When Greenhalgh got to the store, she found the product – alongside a much-cheaper generic version.
Greenhalgh did a quick Google search to see if there was any difference between the products, and came away with no definitive answer. The cost-conscious student decided to roll the dice.
When Greenhalgh got home, she quickly realized the product she had purchased was far inferior. For starters, the wipes she had purchased couldn’t even be separated from each other.
“It was infuriating,” Greenhalgh said.
There was a silver lining, though.
“I started to recognize that there’s a problem of consumers not knowing when they should risk it with the generic brands or stick with the name brands, like I should have done with the Clorox wipes,” Greenhalgh said.
Six years later, Greenhalgh – a “double-’Hoo” after going on to graduate from the Darden School of Business in 2017 – has turned that consumer dilemma into a business.
Last month, Greenhalgh’s start-up company, Brandefy – which came together in UVA’s i.Lab business incubator program – closed an initial funding round.
Brandefy is a smartphone app that helps consumers decide between generic and name-brand products through ingredient comparisons and user reviews.
Based on consumer rankings, the app spits out an ingredient match percentage and a synopsis of whether people perceived the products to be the same.
“Shoppers can pull up the app and identify if generics are closely comparable to trusted brands, so they can save without compromising value,” said Greenhalgh, a Berryville native.
Greenhalgh and her partners – who include fellow alumni James Graham and Carolyn Kochard – are now working out of a UVA Licensing and Ventures Group incubator space.
“I’ve been so impressed with what Meg’s been able to do,” Graham said. “It was just kind of a one-woman team for a while. Now she has cultivated a team atmosphere, so we have been able to move forward.”
Greenhalgh, Graham and Kochard believe the idea behind Brandefy is one many people can relate to.
To wit: Kochard remembers being put at timeout table when she was a child because she had traded generic Oreos to a friend for real ones. “My mom was all mad,” Kochard recalled. “She said, ‘You had Oreos in your lunch.’ I said, ‘No I didn’t. I had the generic ones and they were terrible!’”
Greenhalgh said she realized that the private label manufacturing business was “a space not a lot of people were paying attention to” during a McIntire internship in at Charlottesville-based Perrigo Nutritionals, which produces store-brand products, including baby foods, vitamins and supplements.
While working at Perrigo, after she had graduated, Greenhalgh learned how manufacturing companies frequently sell the same product under different labels and price points to consumers. “As a consumer, I found that really frustrating because there was no transparency to it,” she said.
After briefly interning for a start-up tech company in Richmond, Greenhalgh applied to Darden and was accepted. During her first year, she tinkered with her idea for Brandefy, focusing heavily on market research.
“We started interviewing consumers to see if this actually was a problem,” Greenhalgh said, “because who knows? It could have actually just been my problem.”
The research showed it wasn’t.
In April, Greenhalgh launched the app – which is free – in the iOS store.
Brandefy focused on the health and beauty sector first. Then, after data showed that Tylenol was the No. 1-searched item, they moved into drugs.
Food is up next. “Right now, we’re working on our process, so that when we get to the point where we want to move into a category, it’s pretty seamless,” Graham said.
One of the team’s funnier findings has been seeing just how many people are interested in getting the low-down on the various tomato soups on the market.
Greenhalgh said there is a long way to go.
“You can tell we’re definitely in beta because the user interface isn’t pretty, but it’s all about the process,” she said. “One of the big things I learned at Darden, and I am continually reminded of, is to get the product out there, get people using and testing it. Don’t wait until it’s perfect. If you do that, you’ve waited too long.”
Down the road, Greenhalgh said she sees several potential revenue streams, with in-app product promotions one possibility.
Greenhalgh said her time at Darden was invaluable. “I had instrumental mentors, professors and classmates who helped me through every stage,” she said.
Greenhalgh learned that her funding had officially come through on June 30 – the day she got married.
“It was a little more of an emotional week than I had anticipated,” Greenhalgh said with a chuckle.
Thankfully, Greenhalgh said her husband is an understanding fellow.
“He’d call me and I’d be like, ‘I’m on the phone with lawyers! I’ll call you later!’ I’m just lucky that he still married me.”