Intelligentsia enters RTD coffee space: ‘We didn’t want to put drinks on the market just to keep up with everyone else’

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Lindsey Swedick
Photo Credit: Lindsey Swedick

Related tags RTD coffee Oatly

Intelligentsia, a pioneer in the third wave coffee movement, has entered the ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee category with a line of flash-chilled coffee blended with Oatly oat milk, which will soon expand distribution from its specialty coffeebars to retail outlets.

Already a booming category in North America where cold brew products dominate the market (generating $10.4bn in sales in 2019, according to Allegra World Coffee Portal​), RTD coffee has branched off into several segments including nitro coffee, single-origin coffee, and products featuring plant-based milks.

Considered a leader in third wave coffee (referring to a greater emphasis on sustainability, direct trade sourcing models of coffee beans, and overall appreciation for the roast profiles of various coffee varieties), Intelligentsia has been working on its RTD coffee line for the past five years, the company said. 

“One thing we said during the process of creating our ready-to-drink beverages was that we didn’t want to put drinks on the market just to keep up with everyone else, we wanted to enter this category with outstanding offerings that showcase Intelligentsia’s dedication to quality,”​ said James McLaughlin, CEO of Intelligentsia Coffee.

“Over these five years, we tested countless iterations - over 40 versions of the oat milk latte, and over 30 versions of the spiced oat latte, so we could ensure that what we’re offering tastes better than everything else out there. There also were innovations we were trying to do in this category that weren’t possible a few years ago when we started this,” ​Britt Berg, director of brand and e-commerce at Intelligentsia Coffee, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Intelligentsia uses a flash-chilled process in which the coffee is brewed hot (allowing greater flavor extraction from the coffee) and then rapidly chilled in order to lock in the coffee flavor and halt any flavor degradation in the final product.

The company’s three SKUs using the flash-chilled process include cold coffee (without oat milk), an oat latte, and its spiced oat latte packaged in 100% recyclable 11-ounce Tetra-Pak Prisma cartons for $3.99.

Oatly is perhaps the best 'milk' ingredient that you could choose for a plant-based RTD

Intelligentsia has partnered with Oatly since 2016 (and was the brand’s first exclusive US partnership) using its barista oat milk blend in its specialty coffee drinks at its coffee bar locations.

Popular for its dairy-like consistency and mouthfeel, oat milk lattes and coffee drinks have taken off in popularity not just at Intelligentsia coffeebars – where the Oatly beverages make up 13% of orders – but in CPG where the likes of Chobani​, Silk, and Califia Farms have all launched their own oat milk RTD coffee products.

“Oatly is perhaps the best ‘milk’ ingredient that you could choose for a plant-based RTD, and in the Oat Latte and Spiced Oat Latte, we use a lot of coffee compared to what our competitors use and also compared to a latte that you’d get from one of our coffeebars,” ​said Berg.

Turbinado sugar is used instead of white refined sugar in the RTD line, because it pairs with the coffee better, added Berg.

Following its high quality coffee standards, Intelligentsia’s RTD coffee line uses a blend of Ethiopian coffee from its direct trade partners at METAD ​that is supplemented by Guatemalan coffee produced by Finca Santa Ana or Peruvian coffee sourced from Origin Coffee Lab (depending on seasonality), noted Berg.

The new line is available at Intelligentsia’s coffeebar locations in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City with plans to eventually expand into retail, according to Berg.

“Over the coming months, the plan is to gradually migrate the products to the natural and conventional grocery accounts — Whole Foods, Wegmans, Gelson’s among them — that already carry our coffees,”​ said Berg.

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