Cold-brew maker gets a new look

Rich­mond-based cold-brew cof­fee maker Con­ver­gent Cof­fee Co. re­brands as it looks to ex­pand its dis­tri­bu­tion across the na­tion

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALEXAN­DRA CLINE

The process of craft­ing nitro cold­brew cof­fee takes time, but a Rich­mond-based com­pany isn’t wast­ing a sec­ond in its ef­fort to bring its re­gional brand na­tion­wide.

Con­ver­gent Cof­fee Co. re­cently an­nounced a brand re­fresh, fea­tur­ing a new look for its nitro-in­fused craft cold-brew cof­fee cans. The re­designed cans, which boast a new logo, will be avail­able in re­tail stores in ma­jor mar­kets this month.

“We’re cre­at­ing a dis­tinc­tive look and feel that re­flects our craft brew­ing roots and who we are at the com­pany,” CEO Steve Ball said.

The de­sign up­date is the sec­ond piece of the bud­ding na­tional com­pany’s rebrand.

The first came in Au­gust, when the com­pany changed its name from Con­flu­ence Cof­fee Co. to Con­ver­gent Cof­fee Co. That de­ci­sion was the re­sult of a trade­mark con­flict with a brew­ing com­pany in Iowa.

The new name was cho­sen to pre­serve the es­sen­tial mean­ing of the old one while keep­ing the prod­uct’s al­lit­er­a­tion, Ball said.

“Con­flu­ence, the mean­ing is about com­ing to­gether, and con­ver­gent is about com­ing to­gether,” said Ball, who started work­ing with the com­pany in Oc­to­ber. He also is one of the founders and the for­mer CEO of “I and Love and you,” a pre­mium pet food brand founded in 2012 in Boul­der, Colo.

“We wanted to stay with the brand iden­tity,” he said.

Con­ver­gent Cof­fee was founded by Mike Woitach and Terry Darcy in March 2015 in Washington, and

“There aren’t many nitro cold-brewed canned com­pa­nies out there. I like to think we’re in a class of our own.” Ben Howard, Con­ver­gent Cof­fee Co. pro­duc­tion man­ager

the pair moved op­er­a­tions to Rich­mond in 2016. It ini­tially op­er­ated in a 1,600-square-foot space in the Manch­ester neigh­bor­hood of South Rich­mond, but moved its pro­duc­tion op­er­a­tions to just over 10,000 square feet on Her­mitage Road near The Di­a­mond.

One of the co-founders re­mains as a mi­nor­ity share­holder, but the other is no longer in­volved in the busi­ness, the com­pany said, de­clin­ing to spec­ify fur­ther.

Since its found­ing, Con­ver­gent Cof­fee has grown from a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign into a brand that re­cently raised $2.3 mil­lion from in­di­vid­ual in­vestors, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion fil­ing.

The cap­i­tal raise, which was com­pleted in Fe­bru­ary, will be used to cover the costs of the re­brand­ing and to sup­port the com­pany’s na­tional ex­pan­sion, Ball said.

“There aren’t many nitro cold-brewed canned com­pa­nies out there,” pro­duc­tion man­ager Ben Howard said. “I like to think we’re in a class of our own.”

Avrum El­makis, Con­ver­gent Cof­fee’s board chair­man, said he’s ex­cited about the com­pany’s fu­ture prospects.

“When I got in­volved, it was a very Rich­mond-cen­tered com­pany that didn’t have much, if any, dis­tri­bu­tion out­side of the MidAt­lantic,” said El­makis, who, along with his wife, Lau­ren, in 2007 founded TDBBS LLC, the Hen­rico County-based com­pany that sells nat­u­ral dog treats and pet toys un­der the brands Best Bully Sticks, Bark­wor­thies and Paw Lux­ury. El­makis stepped down as CEO of TDBBS ear­lier this year but re­mains ex­ec­u­tive board chair­man.

“Our job has re­ally been to cre­ate a brand that can scale na­tion­ally,” El­makis said about Con­ver­gent Cof­fee.

De­spite the progress, a new name and logo can bring chal­lenges for a com­pany, said Kelly O’Keefe, a pro­fes­sor of brand man­age­ment at the Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity Brand­cen­ter.

“It’s a bit like start­ing all over again,” O’Keefe said. “If it has been mar­keted a great deal and now you want to change things dra­mat­i­cally, you’re kind of throw­ing away a lot of things you’ve in­vested in.”

But O’Keefe cau­tioned that the name and logo are only com­po­nents of a brand — and not al­ways the most im­por­tant ones. “The key is mak­ing sure the prod­uct qual­ity is as good as it can be.”

Na­tion­ally, the per­cent­age of adults drink­ing spe­cialty cof­fee daily, such as nitro cold brew, has risen from 14 per­cent in 2001 to 41 per­cent in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the Spe­cialty Cof­fee As­so­ci­a­tion, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that rep­re­sents cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als around the world.

Cold-brew cof­fee con­tin­ues to en­joy pop­u­lar­ity in the U.S., with to­tal re­tail sales grow­ing 460 per­cent from 2015 to 2017 to reach an es­ti­mated $38.1 mil­lion in 2017, ac­cord­ing to data from con­sumer re­search firm Min­tel.

Cof­fee gi­ant Star­bucks is the most no­table com­pany sell­ing nitro cold brew,

though other smaller busi­nesses also have en­tered the mar­ket.

OOO

To dis­tin­guish it­self, Con­ver­gent Cof­fee takes pride in the unique­ness of its fla­vors and in its lengthy, hand-crafted brew process.

Last month, the com­pany in­tro­duced a new vanilla-fla­vored nitro cold brew to its prod­uct lineup, which also in­cludes its house, mocha and co­conut fla­vors.

Though vanilla is a com­mon fla­vor in cof­fee, Ball said, Con­ver­gent crafts its cold vanilla fla­vor in a dif­fer­ent way. A can of its Nitro Vanilla has no added sugar and no dairy. The fla­vor, Ball said, comes di­rectly from the or­ganic vanilla bean in­tro­duced to the blend dur­ing the brew process.

That process, which in­cludes five key steps, is “where the magic hap­pens,” Ball said.

The cof­fee beans are first sourced and roasted by Blan­chard’s Cof­fee Roast­ing Co., a Rich­mond­based com­pany.

Those beans are then ap­plied to a cold-brew process, which in­volves steep­ing the cof­fee in cold wa­ter for 20 hours. Dur­ing the process, the con­coc­tion is in­fused with ni­tro­gen to cre­ate a smoother taste that min­i­mizes the need for added dairy. The ni­tro­gen also adds a cas­cad­ing fac­tor to the cof­fee when poured, sim­i­larly to the stout-like con­sis­tency found in Guin­ness beer.

All stages of that process take place at Con­ver­gent Cof­fee’s pro­duc­tion site on Her­mitage Road. In Novem­ber 2016, Woitach es­ti­mated that the com­pany would be able to pro­duce more than 135,000 cans a month in that fa­cil­ity. Ball de­clined to dis­close cur­rent pro­duc­tion fig­ures.

“We feel that do­ing it all in four walls is the best way to en­sure qual­ity,”

Ball said. “Ev­ery­thing is hand-crafted. We’re put­ting the ut­most qual­ity in the prod­uct and the ut­most time and at­ten­tion.”

Con­ver­gent Cof­fee is cur­rently sold in about 675 stores, the bulk of which are in the Mid-At­lantic and on the West Coast. The com­pany also has com­mit­ments to sell its prod­ucts in at least 2,000 stores by the end of the year.

The cof­fee cans are car­ried in Whole Foods stores in the Mid-At­lantic and lo­cally at Ell­wood Thompson’s Lo­cal Mar­ket, Stella’s Gro­cery, Pop’s Mar­ket on Grace and Cary­town Cup­cakes, among oth­ers.

The 12-ounce cans sell for about $3.99.

“We were a re­gional brand up un­til the end of last year,” Ball said. “Now, we have an of­fice in the West to open up western dis­tri­bu­tion, and we’re launch­ing in the Den­ver mar­ket this month.”

The com­pany em­ploys seven peo­ple at its Rich­mond fa­cil­ity and has three em­ploy­ees based out of its of­fice in Den­ver, where Ball works.

Soon, Con­ver­gent Cof­fee will in­tro­duce two new sea­sonal fla­vors for the hol­i­days. Those fla­vors, which haven’t been re­vealed yet, will likely be avail­able in Septem­ber.

“We’re def­i­nitely one of the fastest, if not the fastest, grow­ing cold-brew com­pa­nies out there,” Ball said.

MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Der­ick Tickle, head brewer at Con­ver­gent Cof­fee Co. in Rich­mond, fills out a tem­per­a­ture log. The nitro cold-brew cof­fee com­pany op­er­ates on Her­mitage Road near The Di­a­mond.

Con­ver­gent Cof­fee Co. has four cold-brew fla­vors — house, vanilla, mocha and co­conut.

Ball

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