While food companies have been using coffee concentrates in candy and snacks for years, Nudge (The Whole Coffee Co) utilizes the whole coffee bean, deploying a patented process that unlocks a 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).
The firm 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 the mix to create a dark, aromatic, shelf-stable ‘whole coffee matter’ that it molds into bars and pellets with coffee-shop inspired flavors such as Caramel Macchiato, Vanilla Latte, Brazilian Reserve, and Colombian Reserve.
‘It was very incremental and productive in the confectionery space’
It’s taken a while to get the messaging, positioning, and packaging right, as the company was not initially clear whether it made more sense to merchandise the products - which naturally contain caffeine from the coffee beans - next to coffee or chocolate, for example. However, testing at Kroger suggested the candy aisle made the most sense, CEO Tom Ferguson told FoodNavigator-USA.
“They tested Nudge in the confectionery and coffee aisle, and the results that came back showed that it was very incremental and productive in the confectionery space, specifically in that better-for-you candies space by brands such as Lily’s.”
A coffee snack with natural caffeine and 50-90% less sugar than leading chocolate brands
The coffee bars and bombs – which contain 2-3g sugar per serving – are being consumed at many different times of the day, as a mid-morning snack, afternoon pick me up, or as an all-day snacking opportunity for a caffeine boost or luxurious coffee flavor experience without all the sugar, he said.
“The flavor profiles that we launched in the middle of last year during the Kroger test such as Caramel Macchiato and Vanilla Latte are working really well; people are telling us in reviews that they love the taste and the fact it’s a coffee snack that has natural caffeine [61-99mg per tin] and it’s convenient.”
The Nudge brand – which is available on Amazon and direct to consumer at eatnudge.com - is also beginning to pick up some business in the foodservice channel, said Ferguson, a CPG industry veteran who joined The Whole Coffee Co in late 2020 from DTC shaving brand Harry’s.
“One example is our partnership with the [Major League Baseball team] Miami Marlins, so Nudge products are now available at various locations of [the stadium] loanDepot park, including the PNC Club and El Mercadito, a grab-and-go location on the main concourse, and we just did our first big sampling event when the New York Mets came to town.”
Sampling: ‘The thing that blows people away is the taste and the texture’
Other areas of opportunity beyond mainstream grocery include offices, gifting companies, convenience stores, and coffee shops, said Ferguson, who said sampling is key to driving trial and awareness: “Sampling is our most important marketing strategy.
“We saw that at Kroger, which has been great about doing in store sampling, the lifts are tremendous, because this is a product that has to be tasted to be believed. The Caramel Macchiato and Vanilla Latte bombs do particularly well with women aged 25 to 34.
“We're now looking at sampling opportunities at all kinds of gatherings because we want to get this snack into people's hands. The thing that blows people away is the taste and the texture.”
New form factors: ‘Whatever you can do with chocolate, we can do with coffee’
When it comes to new form factors, the sky is the limit, given the versatility of the whole coffee matter, said Ferguson, who is exploring everything from coffee-coated nuts to coffee squares, as well as additional coffee-shop-inspired flavor combinations and seasonal lines (think pumpkin spice, peppermint mocha). “Whatever you can do with chocolate, we can do with coffee.”
He added: “2021 was all about getting our branding right and understanding how consumers were responding to our products. Now we’re in a position to expand and scale.”