Case Study
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Revolutionizing Corporate Gifting: Milk Bar Adds Zest to Elevate the Bakery Experience

February 16, 2024
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If your sweet tooth has ever taken over and led you down the rabbit hole of cookies, cakes, sweets, and treats, odds are good you’ve crossed paths with Milk Bar once or twice (or hundreds of times, we don't judge). The renowned bakery’s naked layer cakes, Compost Cookies, frosty pints of Cereal Milk ice cream, and gooey Milk Bar Pie have been blessing more kitchen tables and Insta feeds than ever before. 

Alongside picture-perfect desserts, Christina Tosi, New York City, and the brand’s ubiquitous hue of pink, Milk Bar has also grown synonymous with something else that’s universally loved: gifting. 

Milk Bar goodies basically have gifting baked into them. From birthdays to anniversaries to holidays and just because, everything the bakery dishes is a delicious gift. As delightful as the treats are, though, the experience of sending them as gifts to loads of people was anything but. In 2023, Milk Bar ditched the old way of doing things and put its innovative spin on its corporate gifting channel. 

Zest partnered with Milk Bar to power a better gift-giving experience for customers all while making the whole process more efficient for the in-house team. See how this duo went down and the sales went up during Milk Bar’s 2023 holiday season.

Just a taste of Milk Bar's corporate gift selection.

Milk Bar: 16 Sweet, Sweet Years of Mixing It Up

Since 2008, Milk Bar has been turning the bakery archetype upside down. The iconic treats concocted at the flagship location in New York City’s East Village have amassed a fiercely loyal fan base, which is really no surprise when you consider the brains behind it all. 

Bask in all the flagship Milk Bar glory in this story by Eater.

Christina Tosi is a two-time James Beard Award-winning dynamo who’s turned Milk Bar from just a crumb of an idea into a baked goods empire. Today, Milk Bar boasts a dozen brick-and-mortar locations around the U.S., stays stocked on grocery store shelves, and is a popular ecommerce purchase. 

Why is this bakery so hot? Well, Milk Bar is equal parts innovation and kickass mission. 

When it comes to the treats responsible for building the fan base, they’re objectively irresistible. They’re the culmination of Tosi’s formal culinary training and informal obsession with home baking. Which, we think, translates to the top tier flavor balance you’d expect from a baking pro plus the ooey gooey goodness you get when scraping the batter bowl clean with your bare hands at the kitchen table.

Aside from the good stuff Tosi puts in the bakery cases, she also believes in putting goodness out into the world. From the firm belief that “no occasion at all is a perfectly valid occasion to celebrate yourself or someone else,” to the slew of charities they team with to help those less fortunate, the vibes are immaculate.

The bottom line is that Milk Bar puts people first. From delighting taste buds to expanding preconceived notions about bakeries to lending a hand to those in need, it’s all one big vessel for surprising and delighting. 

So when the company’s borderline archaic corporate gifting process was put under the microscope, it was clear that it wasn’t meeting the same people-pleasing metric that every other brand touchpoint does.

The Problem: Tedious, Time-consuming Gifting

Corporate gifting is a notoriously stodgy process for any company. Despite the innovations of direct-to-consumer ecommerce over the past decade, the means to purchase gifts for a group of people online is as outdated as the 8-track and Pong. And even though Milk Bar has pushed the envelope in pretty much every conceivable way, it couldn’t escape the plight of outdated corporate gifting technology. 

Milk Bar has been selling baked goods online and shipping them across the nation since 2010 (practically eons ahead of everyone else in the biz). These shipments are, obviously, perishable and need some extra care. And as most goods ordered online are gifts being sent to someone to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or other milestone, ensuring their arrival by a specific date is crucial. 

These considerations are inherently tricky, but there’s extensive logic in place to make sure Milk Bar’s ecommerce shop runs smoothly.

Big honkin’ corporate gift orders, though? That’s a whole 'nother ball game. 

Group orders proved to be especially challenging for the team at Milk Bar. Oftentimes, these orders consist of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of goods being shipped to people all around the country, which means entirely different shipping schedules, packaging concerns, and more for a single order. Because of the extreme detail for every order, Milk Bar’s group orders were all being processed manually and without the luxury of the automatic logic mentioned above. 

“The process was time-intensive,” remembers Amelia Heller, the corporate sales manager at Milk Bar. “Group gift orders were a 10- to 15-step process that needed a lot of handholding.” From picking gifts that fit a variety of budgets to shipping times, managing delivery days, customizing packaging, accounting for food allergies, and beyond, it could take weeks to fulfill an order. 

After the back-and-forth between a Milk Bar rep and an interested corporate customer, the team would receive a spreadsheet for the order. Then the long, grinding journey of invoicing, payment, and manually uploading every single item in the back end would begin.

“The process took a lot of bandwidth. Time the team could’ve spent on outreach, re-engaging customers, and growing the company in other ways was spent on the manual labor of these orders,” says Amelia. “The influx of orders meant Q4 was a nightmare.”

The corporate gifting process was not jiving with Milk Bar’s innovative nature and reputation for exceptional experiences. Something had to change.

The Solution: Milk Bar Taps Zest as Secret Gifting Ingredient 

Milk Bar has built up a darn good reputation (one nearly as good as its Compost Cookies). 

When customers walk into a Milk Bar bakery, they enter with the peace of mind that they’re going to get a great experience and premium treats every single time. “It’s the one place in New York where you can walk in and walk out with a cake,” says Amelia. (A statement that holds true even if someone strolls in at midnight on a Tuesday.) 

What’s more is that the company’s online shopping experience doesn’t stray from that high standard, either.

In a nutshell, customers have come to expect the best experiences buying the best baked goods no matter where they are or how big their order is. However, the corporate gifting experience was clearly fraught with friction. Everyone had to endure an escapade unlike what they typically get from the groundbreaking brand. 

This hard reality set the wheels in motion to explore platforms that could help out the Milk Bar team and bring the process up to snuff. After poking and prodding at a few options, Zest entered the picture. 

Much like how Milk Bar’s forte is world-class baked goods, Zest’s bread and butter is best-in-class gifting technology. It’s a platform that makes it possible for ecommerce stores to scrap antiquated corporate order forms, spreadsheets, and ad hoc processes in favor of an experience akin to today’s seamless DTC shopping.

Zest’s user experience aligned with the high standard people anticipate from Milk Bar, the customizable platform was essentially plug-and-play, and the simplified back end cleaned up the team’s entire process. Above all else, though, Zest was able to automate the corporate gifting experience and eliminate any trace of the pesky friction felt by all. 

The Results: Corporate Gifting Labor Slashed by 70% Over the Holidays (Plus Lots of Other Cool Things)

The top pain point blighting every part of Milk Bar’s old corporate gifting experience was time. The time it took customers to place a bulk order that fit their unique needs. The time it took team members to manually upload the details. The time it took everyone to reach some peace of mind that these group gifts were going to be perfectly orchestrated every time. 

After adding a Zest-powered corporate gifting storefront to the Milk Bar website, it’s as if time (and lots of it) appeared out of thin air. In lieu of forms and playing the waiting game, customers could shop from a curated catalog of corporate gifts, customize their gift message, coordinate delivery, and pay in just a few minutes all on their own

Over the 2023 holiday season, a whopping 70% of corporate orders were processed through Zest and required no time from the team at Milk Bar. “I loved waking up each morning and seeing the orders placed overnight that I didn’t have to touch,” said Amelia. “I’d wake up and see $30K in revenue made while I was sleeping.”

That’s $30K in revenue from customers who otherwise would’ve had to wait days for a response had the process not been automated. Or, worst case scenario, customers would’ve never placed an order at all because of that friction. Instead of waiting, customers could order for thousands on a Friday and see that order go out on Monday. 

Heller said, “People could now come to this storefront and get the same high-quality product and experience they expect from Milk Bar.” Corporate gifting was finally harmonizing with the in-person and online shopping experiences the brand had created, and it was a very welcome change. “People who’ve been buying Milk Bar for years transitioned to this new platform, no questions asked.”

The corporate gifting interface built by Zest isn’t anything like the old way of ordering bulk gifts, but it’s so intuitive that making the switch is easy for Milk Bar customers. In fact, customer support tickets related to corporate gifting dropped significantly, despite the process being pretty new for shoppers. 

One of the biggest differences after launching the corporate storefront with Zest is how little time is now needed to process large orders. Before Zest, the typical turnaround time for a corporate order was hovering around 2 weeks. This made it nearly impossible for last-minute shoppers to place orders before the holidays, but it also meant that Milk Bar had to cut off orders weeks before a deadline. 

Historically, Milk Bar stopped taking Q4 holiday orders by December 9. In 2023, with Zest in their stack, Milk Bar was able to extend the holiday gift ordering window through December 18, all while ensuring the hefty orders would be processed, shipped, and delivered by Christmas. 

These additional nine days of gifting amounted to incremental sales that were previously out of reach because of the time needed to make these orders a reality. With a dedicated, easy, and fast corporate gifting storefront, this extra week proved to be their biggest one of the season — sales that would otherwise have been lost to competitors. 

“Zest surpassed everyone’s expectations,” recalls Amelia. “I’m a huge fan of Zest, as is my mental health.” 

Milk Bar Is Setting the Standard for Baked Goods and Great Gifting

Milk Bar is a powerhouse in both the culinary and popular culture worlds. From its flagship store to its brick-and-mortar expansion, its extensive media coverage from news shows to Netflix to broadcast TV, its ever-expanding menu of novel nummies, and its growing list of appearances with celebs like Taylor Swift and Jay-Z, this bakery is hot. 

Sending Milk Bar to friends, fam, and coworkers for any and all occasions (or sending a box of the good stuff to yourself because you’re an adult who appreciates delicious pastry), is a no-brainer. 

The brand is continuing to innovate its gifting experiences powered by Zest so that every customer journey is fully aligned with the thoughtfulness of every one of its touchpoints. In short, whether someone is buying for themselves, a buddy, or an entire crew at an enterprise company, they’ll never have to stress whether the gifts will get where they need to be.

They always will, except now, it’s taking a lot less time from every person involved along the way. 

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Liz Lorge
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