High Brew Coffee closes ‘non-traditional’ $20m funding round

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

The funds from its latest $20m investment round will go towards experiential and digital marketing initiatives, CMO Mari Johnson said.
The funds from its latest $20m investment round will go towards experiential and digital marketing initiatives, CMO Mari Johnson said.
High Brew Coffee of Austin, Texas, closed a $20m funding round led by investment firm Charles Street Partners, marking its third and largest investment since launching in 2014.

The ready-to-drink (RTD) cold brew coffee brand previously closed $4m and $17m funding rounds from CAVU Venture Partners​ and Boulder Investment Group Reprise (BIGR), respectively.

Its most recent funding round led by Charles Street Partners was “non-traditional”​ in its approach and reflects the brand’s aspirational, active ethos said High Brew Coffee CMO Mari Johnson.

Charles Street Partners was founded by former MLB pitcher Huston Street, he and his business partner Charles Attal, who is also partner of C3 Presents (a concert promotion, event production, and artist management company) approached High Brew Coffee founder David Smith about leading the next funding round.

“The common denominator is they’re [Street and Attal] both from Austin, they both discovered the brand, fell in love with it, invested early on, and saw the performance of the brand,” Johnson said.

“They then came to us and said ‘we want to lead this round’,”​ Johnson said.

Under Street’s and Attal’s direction, the funding round was able to attract high profile investors like pop rock group Kings of Leon and  celebrity chef, Tim Love.

The company reported selling more than 24 million cans in 2017 and currently growing sales volumes by 55% nationally in grocery, mass, and drug retail outlets surpassing the market-leading brand in cold brew sales over the past eight weeks.

Captivating the ‘doers’

High Brew previously told our sister publication BeverageDaily​ that it has been leveraging its slim, on-the-go portability of its products to ingratiate itself with the outdoor adventure seeker.

Music festivals have been an important part of this focus and High Brew will be selling its products at Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, and BottleRock – all multi-day outdoor concert events that had a combined attendance of approximately 1 million last year.

“When you feel like you can't make it to day three [of a music festival], that’s where High Brew kicks in,”​ Johnson said.

“It’s not just music festivals, there’s the outdoor adventure element – it can be taken on a ski mountain or on a hike.”

 The brand is also working to connect with the day-to-day consumer with office ‘pick-me-up’ samplings as well as tapping into the college student community.

“We’re investing in digital advertising and investing in our Amazon partnership because we know that college students are buying by the case at Amazon for simplicity,” Johnson added.

"This round is really helping to fund all this activity. We’re going to have other notable partners come in, I think you’ll see some things from us with other strategic investors that continue that 'doer' story."

Casting a wider net

Rabobank estimates that the US RTD coffee segment will double by 2022 reaching $6bn in value, and the category will continue to evolve significantly. 

Consumers' coffee needs have changed and many are looking for a product that delivers functional, unique, and natural attributes, which has led to increased category blending, according to Rabobank senior analyst of beverages Jim Watson.

High Brew Sparkling mockup

Leading the front of the pack in such a crowded category like RTD coffee where “cold brew”​ is no longer a differentiating quality is tough, but High Brew has made a concerted marketing effort not to box itself into the RTD cold brew coffee space.

“We’re more than just coffee. We’re a functional, energy product that provides clean, natural energy,”​ Johnson said.

High Brew has positioned itself as an alternative to “scary”​ energy drinks and sugary RTD coffee that are more like “adult milk shakes”​ than a natural coffee product, Johnson added.

The company will be releasing its High Brew sparkling coffee range​ this summer after debuting an early version of the innovation at Natural Products Expo West in March.

“What we’re doing now is optimizing the product,”​ she said. “When you see the product commercialized it’s going to be even better tasting and even better looking.”

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