MIAMI GARDENS, FL — Coffee Thins are that rarity: A product that defies categorization — and almost defies description. Its origins are in two beans: cocoa and coffee. But although it is processed and manufactured in the same way as chocolate, the product is pure coffee. Each piece delivers the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee in a 1-5/8-inch square that has the texture and color of chocolate — except that it contains no chocolate.
The product poses a unique set of problems for manufacturer Tierra Nueva Fine Cocoa: How do you sell an item that is so unusual that it fits neither the candy category nor the coffee category? Where and how do you merchandise it? And how does a company with a long history in cocoa processing and confectionery differentiate this product from its other lines?
Coffee Thins are made from premium coffee beans, roasted and conched for 10 hours. The resulting coffee liquor is blended with milk solids, maltodextrin, emulsifiers, and salt in a traditional chocolate formulation and moulded into squares.
Available in latte, espresso, and Americano varieties (with double espresso and seasonal flavors to be released later this year), the kosher- certified product takes on the character of the coffee beans used, offering potentially limitless flavor varieties, according to the company. The Americano and espresso types contain 70 calories each, while the latte squares are 80 calories apiece.
Although Coffee Thins have been available for less than two years, the product was 15 years in development, Tierra Nueva President and Founder John Alexander says. He explains that once the largest obstacle, shelf life, was resolved — it has a one-year shelf life — it officially launched in August 2012.
The product has already won awards. At the 2013 Specialty Coffee Association of America show, Coffee Thins was named Best New Product — Food, and received the People’s Choice Award — Food, marking the first time in the event’s 25-year history that one company has won two awards in the same year.
Differentiation, Branding Are Challenges
“The Coffee Thins line is capable of tapping into an entirely new market and becominganewcategory,”Alexander says. Eyeing the possibility of teaming with established coffee brands, he suggests those companies could benefit from an unusual source of brand recognition: Having to unwrap a coffee product allows the customer to see the brand during consumption — something that usually doesn’t happen when drinking coffee.
He adds that with 400 million cups of coffee consumed every day in the U.S., the portability of Coffee Thins taps into that potential as a convenient, nonspillable source of energy.
Sampling is critical to helping buyers and customers understand the confection’s uniqueness, says Pablo Reyes-Gutierrez, manager of sales and marketing, adding: “It’s a cup of coffee in solid form, not coffee-flavored candy or chocolate with coffee in it.”
The 0.5-ounce flow-wrapped pieces have a SRP of 75 cents and pack in counter displays featuring 24 units each of the three flavors. Displays with 15 0.35-ounce pieces of each flavor with an SRP of 59 cents will be available later this year. Reclosable coffee-style bags containing 12 pieces in single or assorted flavors have a SRP of $4.99 and ship eight per case. An assortment is also offered in 24-ct bags packing six per case, with a SRP of $8.99.
For dollar, c-store and vendingchannels, a 1.05-ounce boxed assortment containing three 0.35-ounce squares with a $1 SRP will be introduced later this year.
Alexander says: “You want to be where people can appreciate the uniqueness of the product. It complements the coffee experience.”
However, the company is still in the process of identifying the appropriate retail channels. “By changing the coffee variety in the formulation, the flavors, and the packaging, you can go from a simple product for c-stores to a luxury product,” Alexander explains.
Tierra Nueva recently signed an agreement with candy and food brokerage Burdette Beckmann, Inc., which includes Barnes & Noble, Inc. among its clients.
In addition to Coffee Thins, Tierra Nueva processes 720 metric tons of cocoa per month and produces its own line of chocolate bars (Origins and Origins Supreme) in addition to private-label bars and novelty and specialty items for Norwegian Cruise Lines and the drug, supermarket and dollar store channels.
Building On Established Success
“These are U.S. products, made in America. Our size and technology allow us to produce private-label chocolate for retailers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to carry quality products because of their size,” Alexander says.
Origins, the company’s brand, alludes to the distinctive source of the product: The 130 years of expertise of the Cruz family (one of Tierra Nueva’s owner- partners) in cocoa and coffee growing and the use of liquid cocoa. The premium line, Origins Supreme, features 3.5-ounce bars in milk and dark chocolate, milk
chocolate with almonds, and dark chocolate with orange. They are flow- wrapped and individually boxed, packing 12 per display with a SRP of $1.99. Origins Classic 4.6-ounce bars are offered in milk chocolate with crisped rice, cookies and cream, milk chocolate with peanuts, and milk and dark chocolate. With a SRP of $1, they pack in 12-ct display boxes.
Tierra Nueva also offers a sugar- and gluten-free chocolate line, Diatt Zero, sweetened with maltitol. The 0.7-ounce bars — milk chocolate, milk chocolate with hazelnuts, and lactose-free dark chocolate — have fewer than 100 calories and carry a SRP of $1. Each display, shipping 10 per case, contains 12 flow- wrapped bars.
Both Coffee Thins and the chocolate line are made at the company’s 42,000- square-foot Miami Gardens, FL, factory. The company says the facility is the first ofitskindintheU.S.andoneof30inthe world — designed by Netzsch GmbH & Co., a German company that develops turnkey chocolate factories. An expansion scheduled for later this year will double the facility’s capacity and enable the company to move production of its Diatt Zero line from Brazil to the U.S., Alexander explains.
Supporting Retailers For Growth
“We currently cover the majority of retail channels — convenience stores, the dollar store segment, supermarkets, regional chains, gourmet markets and wholesale. All of our products are supported through an aggressive pricing position, a unique product or a raw material selection approach,” Alexander tells Candy & Snack TODAY.
“We always try to solidify our message at the point Tierra Nueva’s Florida headquarters houses a complete chocolate factory, where it manufactures moulded bars.
of sale through our packaging, displays, signs, posters, and any other unique tools,” he says.
“Tierra Nueva takes each retailer as a unique project, where we analyze their needs and our capabilities. At this point, price positioning or novelty products are the tools we use most.”