In just under a year since launching, FORTO Coffee Shots has enjoyed rapid success, expanding into more than 50,000 retail stores nationwide and quickly becoming the top-selling RTD organic coffee brand in the U.S. Now, founder and CEO Neel Premkumar says he’s coming for Starbucks and Monster with a new full-size, ready-to-drink “Energy Coffee” line debuting at the 2018 National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in Las Vegas on Oct. 8-10.
Speaking with BevNET this week, Premkumar said the decision to launch a full-size RTD product began with consumers requesting larger sizes so they could savor the drink. After speaking with retailers who encouraged the company to develop a larger package, the brand crafted a product that could live in to-go coolers while avoiding direct competition with other cold brew brands.
“The [coffee] category is on fire, it’s growing 14 percent year-over-year,” Premkumar said. “But there’s a million entrants. Initially my concern was that everybody and their mother has a cold brew coffee.”
The organic line features three 11 oz. SKUs in packaging modeled after the brand’s coffee-cup style shots and will retail for $2.99. The packs feature a resealable cap and can be drank with the cap off or through the mouth of the lid like a standard to-go cup. The flavors includes Chocolate, Coffee, and Vanilla lattes made with cold brew coffee and whole milk, each of which contain 200mg of caffeine per container. According to Premkumar, the line will ship in December to roughly 15,000 accounts, with retail partnerships still being finalized.
Premkumar said the new products have a similar taste profile to the shots, which will allow consumers to choose between the two depending on use occasion and preference.
The launch comes as FORTO continues to experience rapid distribution growth, including a partnership with Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP) as an allied brand. According to Premkumar, Keurig had been a longtime investor in the company and the brand entered the KDP stable in July following the merger between Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Keurig Green Mountain. While its position as an allied brand will put FORTO next to Peet’s Iced Espresso and High Brew in KDP’s portfolio, Premkumar said the RTD line gives KDP its first play in the energy coffee space as a challenger to products like Starbucks Doubleshot and Monster Java.
“We try to be clearly delineated within the KDP system as different,” Premkumar said. “Whereas High Brew is a cold brew and is positioned as a refreshment to be enjoyed specifically for the merits of cold brew. We are positioned quite differently — do not drink the product unless you want energy, because it’s gonna fuel you. It’s not about enjoying your cold brew coffee in the afternoon, it’s about the buzz and the boost.”
With KDP’s distribution network helping drive growth, Premkumar said he intends to continue the brand’s fast paced expansion — up 350 percent in sales — next year, noting that FORTO is nowhere near market saturation yet. While much of the company’s focus is in dominating the convenience channel, grocery remains an important channel for sales of multipacks. Premkumar said he expects to grow FORTO’s shelf presence within several existing retail partners with new SKUs in the coming round of resets.
The brand is also launching a $15 million marketing campaign, focused on digital video and social media, to promote the RTD launch. Premkumar said the company will target consumers who live near stores that carry FORTO products and will use data collection to target occupation-specific ads to energy-seeking demographics such as athletes, nurses, truckers, dog-walkers, and students.
“The distribution keeps climbing and I think with the back of KDP we’re going to go significantly bigger in the next two years,” he said. “But what keeps me up is how do I generate the awareness amongst my target audience to communicate what the concept is.”