“Nobody has done anything for instant coffee in years,” Bernal told FoodNavigator-USA.
Looking at Packaged Facts’ February 2018 coffee market report, consumption of instant coffee has been on a decline since 2012 when 28.1% of US households reported drinking unsweetened instant coffee compared to 25.8% in 2017. Flavored coffee saw its annual household penetration drop from 17.2% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2017.
The category of instant coffee in the US is still dominated by big corporate brand names such as Folgers (with 11% market share), Maxwell House (5.9%), and Nescafe (5.1%).
While these brands may be the most well-known, their format hasn’t changed in years (i.e. consumers having to measure out the coffee with a spoon) and the source of their beans isn’t typically specified.
According to Bernal, Santo Cubes wants to be more convenient and higher quality (using 100% hand-picked Colombian coffee) by offering its products in a compressed cube
format that takes 10 seconds to dissolve in hot milk or water.
Santo Cubes did a general consumer survey handing out over 5,000 samples of the coffee cubes to US consumers. According to Bernal, 78% of the feedback was positive with consumers remarking that the cubes didn’t taste like conventional instant coffee.
“Most people, they want something convenient even more than the kick or the caffeine content,” he said.
“That was the idea to come up with a cube so they can carry it in their purse or in their pocket.”
To make the coffee cubes, Bernal who was born in the US to first generation Colombian parents worked on the concept for two years. Because of his family’s connections to the coffee business in Colombia, the company sources all of its beans from small family farms in the region.
The beans are left to air dry in the sun, ground finely, freeze dried (a process by which water is removed making the grounds shelf stable as well as water soluble), then combined with evaporated raw cane sugar and compressed into small cubes using custom machinery.
Santo Coffee Cubes come in nine sweetened varieties – caramel, vanilla, mocha, amaretto, hazelnut, dark roast, light roast, decaf, cappuccino – available in six, 12, and 24-count boxes.
Santo Cubes will be launching on crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter next week with a fundraising goal of $30,000 – the minimum it needs to fulfill orders and maintain production consistency.
“Our goal is to have a community of at least 50,000 people that have ordered or tasted our product and want to be our customers,” Bernal said.
Currently, all production is in Colombia where its custom machinery is located, but within one year, the startup aims to move its operations to Orlando, Florida, where Bernal is based.
To be part of Kickstarter, according to Bernal, Santo Cubes had to have a social or environmental cause as part of its business model.
Santo Cubes will be giving part of its sales to building schools in the mountainous communities where its coffee farmers live.
Future of Santo Cubes
Bernal added the ultimate goal is to stock Santo Cubes in major retail outlets such as Whole Foods and the company has been working with a broker to gain store placement by next year.
After sifting through consumer feedback that expressed an interest in a sugar-free option, he company will also be adding unsweetened coffee cubes to its products.
Bernal continued that the company will not limit itself to Colombia for coffee beans and will eventually become a company that sources its beans from all areas of the world including other Latin American countries and Africa.