This summer Chameleon Cold-Brew was recognized by CircleUp25 as one of the “25 most innovative brands of the year,” and not long after, it was named in the top 10 food and beverage companies of Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest-growing US companies.
With all these accolades, there’s got to be something in the water. “The beans are brewed for 16 hours in Texas Hill Country water, providing a uniquely smooth taste that is roughly 50% less acidic than traditionally brewed coffee,” CEO Chris Campbell told FoodNavigator-USA.
But water aside, Campbell believes that it’s the “slow artisanal” process that makes Chameleon Cold-Brew stand out despite the crowding category. Campbell said the process begins with a highly select blend of 100% organic, ethically sourced Central and South American Arabica coffee beans, “that are tailor-roasted on-site for maximum freshness and consistency.”
The cold-brew landscape today
There’s varying data on how hot the cold-brew category is performing, with Mintel data estimating sales at $7.9mn as of September 2015, and SPINS estimating sales at $38.4mn as of April 2016.
“Ready-to-drink cold brew coffee sales have been doubling year-over-year across all channels combined since this product launched just a few years ago ... and we anticipate many more brands will respond to the consumer demand for this beverage in the coming years,” Kora Lazarski, strategic alliances with SPINS, told FoodNavigator-USA earlier this year, talking about the category’s continuing traction.
With only 25 employees, Chameleon Cold-Brew enjoyed a 2,506% revenue growth in the past three years, according to Inc., and generated revenues of $9m in 2015. Citing IRI data, Chameleon Cold-Brew said that its black cold-brew coffee concentrate is leading the national refrigerated coffee concentrate segment by sales, generating sales of $2.7m in the year to August 22, up 302% on the previous year.
Speaking of competition, Campbell said: “We've seen a lot more competition compared to a year ago, especially more regional brands. We haven't seen as many brands break into the national scene, but there are certainly more players than there were a couple years ago.”
Beyond distribution, Campbell also believes his brand stands out in the space because of its production. “We air-roast our beans in small batches, which only 1% of roasters in the US do,” he said. “We are also one of the only cold-brew brands to have an in house director of coffee on staff who supervises the sourcing, brewing, and processing.”
Around this time a year ago, Campbell told FoodNavigator-USA “we are growing quickly, but smartly,” addressing how the category is unchartered waters with an uncertain end point.
“I think the future focus for the category is a little bit unknown,” he said back then, “as there are so many different cold brew formats and options flowing into a lot of different channels all at the same time, which is a little bit unusual as a category develops, so it’s not following any set pattern. All we can say is that there is a lot of room for growth.
“Placing so high on the [Inc. 500] list definitely opened a few doors by starting up some retailer conversations,” he said. “It was a really great spotlight on the company, and it was nice to have that recognition for all of the work we have put into the company and our efforts to produce such a high-quality product.”
Coming up next, the company is launching an ode to its home state: A pecan flavored coffee concentrate, nodding to Texas’ state tree. “Landing at number two for Austin-based brands on the list also gave us a lot of hometown pride,” Campbell added.