Draft Latte Powers La Colombe to Big Start in 2017

La Colombe’s canned Draft Latte has been on the market for just over a year, but the innovative beverage is now the fastest growing RTD coffee in the U.S., according to the premium coffee manufacturer and retailer, which cited recent sales data from market research firm IRI.

A textured coffee drink made with espresso and milk and infused with liquid nitrous oxide, Draft Latte, which comes in several flavor varieties, is now available in 25,000 points of distribution across the country, including Wegmans, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Publix and Target, up from under 10,000 in March. La Colombe co-founder and CEO Todd Carmichael attributes the surge in availability and sales growth to the company’s “team and talent.”

“We had the foresight to generate relationships with key players and give them the runway to succeed at an early stage,” Carmichael said in an email to BevNET. “Kyle O’Brien, our EVP of Sales, came on last year and set up a killer team and distribution network and then navigated retailer relationships to get the Draft Latte placed in the right place in the store.”

While O’Brien, who led global sales initiatives for Greek yogurt giant Chobani before joining La Colombe last year, said he believes Draft Latte “belongs in all [retail] channels,” the rollout has been staggered, beginning in natural and grocery stores before expanding into other channels, including convenience, club, and food service. He described the coffee as “one of those special products that is merchandised in different places throughout the store,” which has helped build the brand’s presence at retail.

“It’s in grab-and-go as single [cans], dairy as singles and 4-packs; we’ve seen some beautiful end cap displays,” he said. “I love being able to walk into a store and see it in multiple locations.”

The recent opening of La Colombe’s 55,000 sq. ft. production facility in Western Michigan was also a key factor in the development of the Draft Latte line. The facility, a former dairy processing plant that was retrofitted with coffee brewing and manufacturing equipment, has enabled the company to meet the expanding distribution footprint and growing demand for Draft Latte. It is currently producing over 30,000 cases per week and has the capacity to produce 250 million cans per year.

On the branding and marketing fronts, La Colombe has leaned on its “23 years of brand heritage” as a coffee retailer to help tell the story for its RTD products, according to VP of marketing Kathryn O’Connor. The company’s 25 cafés and “deep-rooted relationships in the world of food communicates [its] premium quality,” while the packaging is designed to tell a “clean label and dairy-based story,” she said. As the country eases into the summer season months, La Colombe will employ field and grassroots marketing with guerilla sampling in key markets and strategically target cold coffee drinkers with its digital and social campaigns, which promote the tagline “Time to Get Real” and hashtag #CafeAnywhere.

Meanwhile, La Colombe is planning to launch five new varieties of Draft Latte this year, including two dairy-free products (Coconut Mocha and Coconut), a tea (Chai), and two seasonal offerings (Pumpkin Spice and Peppermint Mocha). The new products will join Draft Latte’s existing lineup, which includes the original, Vanilla, Mocha, and Triple Draft. La Colombe also produces Pure Black, a non-textured RTD coffee that recently gained a stablemate called Pure Black & White, which is made with small amounts of cream and cane sugar.

“We are always working on things,” Carmichael said. “We’ll continue to experiment with flavors and leverage texture across a wider portfolio. We’d like to extend into more drinks where coffee is the main ingredient, such as Pure Black & White. We have room in the tea area as well.”