Copper Cow releases churro coffee flavor in Costco, adjusts to new funding reality

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Copper Cow
Image Credit: Copper Cow

Related tags Coffee startups

Vietnamese coffee company Copper Cow is sweetening Costco aisles with a limited-edition churro flavor as it navigates growing without venture-capital (VC) funding, company CEO and Founder Debbie Mullin told FoodNavigator-USA.

Founded in 2017, Copper Cow is a line of coffee​ — available in ground and pour-over packets — and creamers that were inspired by Mullin’s heritage and designed to create an authentic Vietnamese coffee experience. The coffees are available at Whole Foods, Walmart, H-E-B, Sprouts, and direct-to-consumer (DTC) through the brand's website. 

Not only was it important to get the taste right, but Mullin also wanted to ensure that her coffee brand supported the Vietnamese coffee industry, which is the second-largest coffee producer in the world. Copper Cow pays farmers two-times the market for their crops, and Mullin says she has has worked to build an organic supply chain in Vietnam.

“We've been working with farms for multiple years now to become the first Certified Organic Vietnamese coffee brand," Mullin said. "We have these incredibly biodiverse farms, and the coffee trees look like ... coffee forests, and it's really been amazing to see the farms transition and to be able to support that transition to being Certified Organic."

Tips for getting into Costco stores: Persistence, packaging, and promotions

Earlier this year, Copper Cow launched its churro-flavored coffee in a 2lb. bag at 26 Costco stores in the Northeast, which will be available until April 2024.

“We've been pitching Costco since we started. It took, maybe four or five years of pitching to get our first test, which we did in 2023. ... What is so great about Costco is that they are able to bring in new emerging brands like us as tests pretty easily because there isn't a straightforward sections and assortment. You do expect to discover new things at Costco, and you trust the quality so much that they curate.”

Unlike some retailers that sell 20,000 or more items, Costco only sells thousands of items, and there is “really high expectations of how your product is going to perform,” Mullin said.

Startups considering pitching the club retailer​ need to ensure their product “is as much as possible an everyday item,” Millin noted. As such, she explained, she pitched Copper Cow's ground coffee, which is more of an everyday item than its pour-over products.

Costco also pays close attention to packaging, so brands should find ways to tell their story in unique ways and find ways to reinforce that story through in-store activities like demoing, Mullin said.

“Try to have a really strong story on your packaging, and that's something that we worked a lot with our buyer,” Mullin said. “We even made sure that there was a picture of me and my family and a handwritten note for people who were passing out samples with the instructions that they knew that this wasn't just another Nestle brand [but rather] this a person who's been dreaming of this opportunity and please help be a champion for us.”

‘We are not dependent on the VC funding to stay alive today.’

Copper Cow is also adjusting to the new reality of lower levels of venture-capital funding. In 2021, Copper Cow Coffee raised​ $8.5m in a series A round, co-led by Cultivian Sandbox and Arborview Capital, to expand distribution and product innovation.

While the VC funding environment remains challenging, Mullin has focused on "building a real company that can stand on its own two feet," which means being more judicial on hiring, innovating, and growing.

“This is the reality that we live in now. So, I think that the hardest discipline is not being able to expand the team or the product line as quickly as we were able to in the past, but we're really lucky that we are not dependent on the VC funding to stay alive today.”

While Copper Cow has primarily grown its business through DTC channels, it has started to focus on more brick-and-mortar opportunities, while still using digital channels to drive awareness, Mullin said. Social media channels like "TikTok is a huge focus," and Amazon remains a popular channel for the brand, she added.  

"[DTC is] still the majority of our sales. It’s just that other areas like Costco are growing more, so I've always just been a really big believer in terms of the actual sale to just go where our customers are - Amazon has become a much bigger part of our business, [and] we're still in charge of all the ads there. So, I think it's just being a little bit more open to where your customer is going to buy it. And oftentimes, they're going to buy it on multiple channels."

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