The Dairy Aisle: La Colombe’s clever strategy to stand out in the crowded cold coffee category

Photo: La Colombe

Around 80% of La Colombe’s Draft Latte product is milk, so why not place it in the dairy section? That’s what ran through the mind of EVP of sales Kyle O’Brien, and retailers are going with it.

As refrigerated aisles across the nation are brimming with cold coffee products, O’Brien wanted to make sure shoppers won’t dismiss their product as just another can of cold-brew.

In addition to sharing its parent company’s name—La Colombe operates 29 cafes in the hip epicenters of US cities —the can also stands out with a special plastic lip guard, and the promise of a frothy feel one can only experience sitting down at a café (at least, until now).

The Draft Latte comes in four varieties: Regular, Vanilla, Mocha, and Triple Shot. “Our product is unique already, and we need the proper visibility so we can get a can in every hand,” O’Brien told FoodNavigator-USA. “So we thought, we need to go to the dairy department and merchandise it there.”

Texture and sweetness from nitrous oxide

The ready-to-drink product derived from an on-tap latte option that La Colombe co-founder and CEO Todd Carmichael developed for the company’s brick-and-mortar coffee shops. “It became a huge success in a very short period of time, it was very clear that people loved the texture, people loved the fact that it didn’t have all this added sugar,” Carmichael told FoodNavigator-USA.

“It was a huge success, and so we said, wow, let’s figure out how to get that to other people—not just the people in our cafes in Boston and New York and Chicago and DC, let’s share this with America,” he added.

In the summer of 2016, they quietly tested the product, packaged in a patented can that keeps nitrous oxide in a gasket, releasing the gas upon opening to create frothy microbubbles. “We made 10,000 cans, we let that go in the e-commerce platform and it went like crazy, so [we said] ‘I think we have something,’” he added.The product was then sold in La Colombe’s cafes, where it further performed well among consumers.

We want to make great coffee for America, not for the ‘masses’

After a soft launch of La Colombe’s Draft Latte slowly throughout 2016, the product rapidly entered more grocery stores in recent months. Today, it can be found in multiple channels, from conventional to natural to club, including several Kroger banners, Wegmans, Target, and similar stores. “In 180 days, we established 30,000 different points of distribution,” O’Brien said. “And that’s without launching in the convenience channel and drugstore.”

Recently, the brand started a test-run in 14 7-Eleven locations. “We reached out to a 7-Eleven franchisee association, and they were thrilled with the idea, so we immediately put together a test launch…it’s going extremely well,” O’Brien said. “Most locations selling out within the first 10 days.”

He added that the convenience world is a huge opportunity. In general, the RTD coffee category is gaining great momentum in the US. According to Packaged Facts, the US market for packaged and RTD coffee sold at retail was up 10% from the year before to an estimated $13.6bn in 2015, and poised to hit $18bn in 2020.

Data from Euromonitor also reveals global opportunity, especially as there is mass market demand worldwide for premium coffee products. But according to Carmichael, the differentiation between mass market and upmarket is obsolete. “We want to make great coffee for America, not for the ‘masses,’ we don’t want to exclude people,” he said.

La Colombe’s Draft Latte was designed for exactly that: Accessibility; a premium coffee shop experience that can be shipped everywhere and brought everywhere, enjoyed at the buyer’s convenience. By pasteurizing in the can, Carmichael wanted to make sure the end product was as shelf-stable as possible, requiring no refrigeration.

“We want it so that someone can have two cans in their bag and climb a mountain, open a can when they reach the top, and it’ll still be good,” he said.

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