Baby Boxes Become Finland's (Unintended) Gift to Marketing

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A fully loaded Finnbin, with Huggies products and more.
A fully loaded Finnbin, with Huggies products and more. Credit: Finnbin

Putting babies in cardboard boxes may seem a bad idea to some. But it's an increasingly fashionable option for new parents, one getting a novel boost from Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Huggies and Finnbin, a baby box startup inspired by a program created in 1930s Finland. The deal makes Kimberly-Clark the exclusive supplier of products including diapers (Huggies), wipes (Huggies and Kleenex), and pads (Poise).

Chicago-based Finnbin was launched last year by former MSLGroup senior VP and Consumer Practice lead Catherine Merritt with former Groupon executive and serial entrepreneur Shawn Bercuson. Its lowest-price box, at $65, is also stocked with a mattress, pad and sheet. The highest-end Finnbin goes for $450 and is stuffed with 50 products that Merritt says would cost $800 if purchased separately. They include the K-C products plus a baby thermometer, baby clothes, feeding supplies—and a six-pack of condoms.

"We're always looking for different ways to get our products into the hands of consumers who are willing to try them," says Jose Corella, marketing director for Huggies diapers.

Huggies already has a program to distribute samples through maternity wards, and is particularly focused on neonatal intensive care units for premature babies. Depending on how initial results of the Finnbin partnership go, Corella says Huggies may look to expand distribution of the boxes, including through its hospital program. "We want to expand our products to all people in need," he says.

Credit: Finnbin

Finnbin also dovetails with Huggies' efforts to get more play in baby registries and gifting. Friends and families have a big role in influencing brand decisions when parents are "in their discovery phase," Corella says. And Finnbin, he adds, wraps what might seem like unexciting, utilitarian gifts of diapers and wipes into something more interesting.

The baby-box story really starts in 1938, the BBC reports, when the Finnish government, wanting to address a high infant mortality rate, distributed boxes to low-income moms who agreed to a pre-natal care visit. The sturdy cardboard boxes suitable for sleeping now go to all pregnant woman in Finland, along with a mattress, sheet, diapers, bath products, jumpsuits, outdoor gear and a sleeping bag. Under the program, the BBC article notes, Finnish infant mortality declined from the high 80s in 1940 to under two per 1,000 births currently—less than a third the U.S. rate.

Public health authorities in Alabama, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas have in the past year begun giving away hundreds of thousands of boxes from Baby Box Co., a Finnbin rival, similarly stocked with supplies, The New York Times reports. Parents need to watch online videos about sudden infant death syndrome and safe sleep, and complete short quizzes to qualify for the boxes. (Finnbin is announcing the K-C deal as part of a marketing effort around SIDS Awareness Month in October.)

Not everyone is sold on the boxes, which unlike most commercially available cribs and bassinets, haven't been reviewed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"Currently there is insufficient data on the role cardboard boxes play in reducing infant mortality," says the American Academy of Pediatrics, which adds that Finland's low infant-mortality rates also result from excellent prenatal care, little smoking, and babies sleeping on their backs. New Zealand and Australia have conducting yet-to-be-published tests on use of flax or woven boxes for babies, the AAP notes.

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