Healthy beverage innovation

Chameleon Cold-Brew produces consistent coffee for consistent sales

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Chameleon Cold-Brew produces consistent coffee for consistent sales

Related tags Campbell Coffee

Consistency born from thoughtful attention to detail and hiring specialists before they were needed helped start-up Chameleon Cold-Brew rapidly expand distribution by three to four times, launch a new line of ready-to-drink coffees and scoop up a prestigious industry award all in one year. 

“We have taken a big bite out of the apple [in 2014] … and in 2015 we plan on not letting go of that momentum, but rather executing against what we developed in 2014,”​ said Chris Campbell, CEO of the four-year-old Austin, Texas-based coffee company.

He explained that the company is committed to steadily supplying the 1,200 to 1,500 stores in the 30 states nationwide where it now distributes its uniquely cold-brewed coffee made from Arabica beans steeped for 16 hours in purified Texas Hill Country spring water. But it also hopes to expand into the Midwest in the first quarter of 2015.

Consistency is key

As the company continues to expand it is dedicated to consistently providing cold-brew coffee that tastes the same each time – a goal that can be tricky given all the variables that influence the taste of cold brew, including the different batches of beans, the brew time, the water, the containers and the shipping and storage, Campbell said.

Succeeding in the increasingly crowded coffee category “is all about quality,”​ Campbell said. “There are a lot of canned and bottled coffees out there with Starbucks being the dominate player nationally. But what we do is fundamentally different. We start with collecting excellent green coffee, roasting it perfectly, brewing it cold with excellent water” ​and carefully bottling in glass the remarkably smooth, richly flavored coffee that has dramatically reduced acidity and a “jitter free punch of natural caffeine,” ​he added.

“The taste of our cold brew resonates with drinkers and we invested a lot of time, energy and money in that,” ​and “part of our secret sauce”​ is maintaining the flavor profile of what shoppers expect, Campbell said.

He noted the company maintains the flavor profile by employing an expert coffee roaster who selects the beans, blends them properly and controls the roasting time and temperature “to get it exactly the same every time.”

The firm also checks every batch and records the results of each process cycle to ensure consistency, which Campbell acknowledges is not as trendy as “homey and crafty”​ foods that can vary between batches because they are handmade. But, he said, “the reality of it is, when you produce a consistent product,”​ sales also are consistent because people know what they are buying and are not disappointed.

“Excellent water also is critical to what we do” ​and the ability to recreate the same flavor profile each time, Campbell said. He explained that the company only uses water from Texas Hill Country because “the water in New York tastes different from in Los Angeles and in Austin,”​ and those differences can influence the flavor of the end product.

Storage also can influence the product’s flavor, which is why Chameleon packages its coffee only in glass bottles. Campbell explained that aluminum and plastic containers can introduce “foreign flavor to coffee,”​ but glass does not interact with the taste.

In addition, the company uses clear glass bottles “so everyone can see the purity and beauty of our product,”​ according to the firm’s website.

Tying product to multiple trends boosts growth

Chameleon Cold-Brew’s careful attention to detail to how the coffee is made and bottled also allows the firm to tap into multiple other overall consumer trends that are driving industry growth, such as consumer desire for healthier, better-for-you foods and drinks.

Campbell explains that Chameleon’s products are “easy drinking, smooth coffees”​ that are “not designed for the hard-core Italian roast drinker, but rather the middle-of-the-road drinker,”​ and therefore do not need added sugar or cream, making them a healthier option.

Because cold-brewed coffee is so much smoother and has a lower acidity than hot-brewed coffee, the firm does not need to counter bitter notes with the 7 grams to 9 grams of sugar that are in most other commercially produced beverages, Campbell said.

As a result, the company does not consider itself a competitor to Starbucks’ shelf-stable, dairy and sweetened ready-to-drink beverages. Rather, Campbell says the firm is pulling consumers away from high-end coffee shops, home brewers and former coffee drinkers who gave up coffee because they did not like the acidity.

The cold-brew concentrate also appeals to consumer desire for more environmentally-friendly products because the bottles ship with fewer emissions than ready-to-drink products and have multiple servings per container to reduce packaging.

The concentrate also is versatile in that it can be used as a cocktail mixer, as an ingredient in baked goods and even a meat marinade, Campbell said.

The ready-to-drink stock-keeping-units, on the other hand, appeal to consumers who are on-the-go, said Campbell. The firm currently offers three RTD flavors: regular, vanilla and mocha. More flavors could come as soon as the first quarter of 2015, but Campbell says the firm has no intention of selling 40 SKUs in two years.

Certifications communicate excellence

Another key to Chameleon’s success is providing coffee that is both certified organic and fair trade, Campbell said. He explained that many coffees are either fair trade or organic, “but having both is pretty unique and sets us apart from our competitors.”

The company opted to invest in both certifications to underscore its commitment to “consciously”​ crafting coffee that is just as good for coffee farmers and the Earth as it is for the consumers, Campbell said.

Hire the best

As Chameleon did when it hired its expert coffee roaster, Campbell said a key to providing a consistently great product while growing the business is to “hire the very best that you can possibly afford and get them on your staff six months or a year earlier than you think you need them.”

He explained that start-ups often struggle with cash flow and may be tempted to hire mediocre employees to save money, but “having the wrong people can put you out of business.”​ Having the right people, on the other hand “can make all the difference.”

He added: “A sales person who knows who to talk to or a marketing person who understands branding or an operations person who is protective of food safety are all key … to make the company worth anything down the road.”

Gain other advice on how to succeed in the beverage category at the Beverage Innovation Summit Feb. 4. Register for free HERE​.

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