Based on internal research that found approximately one-third of coffee consumers have an aversion to stevia, High Brew has removed the zero-calorie sweetener from three of its products.
“It’s polarizing to quite a few folks out there,” High Brew founder and CEO David Smith said of stevia. “And if you think about alienating a third of your audience, that’s pretty good chunk of the population.”
The company’s Dark Chocolate Mocha, Salted Caramel and Mexican Vanilla beverages were previously sweetened with a blend of cane sugar and stevia and contained 60 calories and 8 grams of sugar per 8 oz. can; the brand’s other two varieties, Double Espresso and Black & Bold, were not formulated with stevia. The revamped drinks, which are sweetened only with sugar, contain 90 calories and 14 grams of sugar each. Smith called the increase in calories and sugar acceptable for most consumers.
“[Last summer] we did a pretty in-depth focus group in multiple cities with different age groups of core coffee consumers,” he said. “We asked about what’s acceptable in terms of the amount of sugar and the amount of calories in the beverage. We learned that we were a lot lower than we needed to be, especially when you’re comparing yourself to a lot of these sugary coffees.”
In Q3 of 2016 High Brew introduced reformulated versions of the drinks that included a blend of monk fruit, stevia and sugar. Smith said the addition of monk fruit was an improvement; however, “they still didn’t quite get there” with consumers and the formulation was scuttled within a couple months.
“Taste is first and foremost with beverages,” Smith said. “At end of the day, it’s hard to replicate the taste of pure sugar.”
High Brew views the updated products as the indulgent segment of its portfolio, while offering consumers a better-for-you option among competing products in the category.
“Even at 90 calories, they’re a lot less than the market leaders out there,” Smith said. He noted that the cold brew formulation gives the product a more coffee-forward taste profile and more natural caffeine as compared to traditional RTD coffee beverages.
High Brew will sample the newly formulated drinks at next week’s Natural Products Expo West 2017; the Vanilla variety is available in stores now, while the Mocha and Caramel products will launch in April. The company will also feature its new protein-infused coffee — debuted at NACS 2016 — at the show, along with a new partnership forged with delosAndes, a cooperative of coffee growers in Colombia, where High Brew sources a significant amount of its beans. It will work with delosAndes on promoting sustainable farming practices, including water conservation and purification projects, as well as ways to improve revenue for coffee farmers and generate interest in agriculture as a career among younger Colombians.