While food companies have been using coffee concentrates for years, says CEO Tom Ferguson, The Whole Coffee Co utilizes the whole coffee bean, deploying a patented process that unlocks a far broader and more complex array of flavors and aromas than brewed coffee (as only about 20% of the flavors in coffee beans are water soluble).
Its process combines ultra-finely-ground whole roasted coffee beans with cocoa butter, which encapsulates the roasted coffee particles, preserving their aroma and flavor. It then tempers (progressively cools and re-heats) them to create a dark, aromatic, shelf-stable ‘whole coffee matter’ with the texture of a thick paste that can be molded into bars or formulated into spreads or other products.
Communicating a novel concept to consumers
As with any truly novel concept, having a clear point of differentiation in the marketplace can be double-edged sword, observes Ferguson, who says the key challenge is communicating to consumers what ‘edible coffee’ is, and just as importantly, what it isn’t.
Nudge’s packaging – for example - features a coffee bean, highlights the origin (Colombian, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Italian roast) and flavor notes (mild to bold) of the coffee, coupled with the caffeine equivalent (in cups of coffee), and the straplines, ‘not chocolate, seriously’ or ‘contains no chocolate.’
However, “some people still think it’s coffee-infused or coffee-flavored chocolate,” acknowledges Ferguson, a CPG industry veteran who joined The Whole Coffee Co last fall from DTC shaving brand Harry’s.
Part of this is due to the format. If coffee bars are positioned next to premium chocolate on shelf, consumers are going to make certain assumptions, says Ferguson, who is having conversations with retailers about how to give the unique products more exposure.
“In [bricks & mortar] retail, they have clear categories. This is what coffee looks like, this is what chocolate looks like. But is it better to put them in the context of coffee, either in the same aisle, or as an adjacency?”
Coffee bombs: ‘They’re dosable, and you get that energy boost from the natural caffeine in the coffee’
Coffee bombs, pellets of whole coffee matter encased in a shell and sold in small tins, however, are an exciting new format that is already gaining solid traction via the company’s direct to consumer business, he says.
“The bombs [the best performers on the nudge website] are exciting. They look a bit like M&Ms, but you’ve got this beautiful coffee taste. They’re dosable, and you get that energy boost from the natural caffeine in the coffee. So maybe you enjoy a few coffee bombs instead of a 5-hour energy, for example.”
‘Shoppers that are buying our products are people we’d categorize as coffee lovers’
So who’s the target consumer for edible coffee, and is this ultimately a niche product with potential in gourmet food gifting, or something that has broader potential?
Unsurprisingly, Ferguson falls into the latter camp, noting that while Nudge products make perfect gifts for foodies, they appeal to anyone that loves coffee: “What we’re seeing from all the feedback we’re getting is that shoppers that are buying our products are people we’d categorize as coffee lovers.”
And that’s a big market, he says. Meanwhile, chocolate lovers (another pretty large market) and "energy seekers" are also big fans, he says.
Go to market strategy
Right now, the team is primarily focused on developing products under the Nudge brand, although it has also partnered with Tim Hortons and Dunkin Donuts to make bars using their coffee beans, says Ferguson.
“We’re very excited about these partnerships and we’re looking to continue to expand, as we have the flexibility to go into lots of categories, from syrups to toppings.”
As for grocery retail, The Whole Coffee Co is talking to several retailers, but is taking its time to really understand who is buying its products and how they are consuming them before aggressively trying to push distribution.
“We’re looking for good partners, but we need to make sure we truly understand the consumer’s path to purchase and gain really strong consumer insights.”
*All images courtesy of The Whole Coffee Co.
Ingredients list (Ethiopian coffee bar): Whole coffee matter (cocoa butter, coffee), natural sweetener blend (erythritol, monk fruit extract), chicory root fiber, skim milk, whey, sunflower lecithin, salt