How and Where to Sell Your Coffee Outside Your Coffee ShopTo reach new customers and expand your brand, consider selling in grocery stores, restaurants, online and more.
Local, independent coffee companies can’t compete with national chains when it comes to brand awareness and exposure — or can they? With the rise of social media and the “shop small” movement, opportunities are brewing.
More and more, owners are finding ways to sell their beans and products outside of their brick-and-mortar stores to extend their reach, boost profits, connect with existing fans and gain new ones.
NCR Silver asked owners to share the brand extensions and partnerships that worked for them. Here are the “where” and “how” ideas that rose to the top.
Pop-ups and mobile shops
When Tom Shu, owner of Blue Penguin Coffee in Minneapolis, was looking to start a coffee company, he opted to skip the physical location. Instead he hosts pop-up pour-over coffee bars — a strategy he said could work for any owner.
At his pop-ups, Shu takes customers through a tasting. Guests smell and try different types of beans. He then makes cups of pour-over coffee for purchase. He also offers cold brew iced coffee. For the coffee itself, Shu partnered with a Minneapolis roaster that handles the sourcing and packaging of his beans.
To operate, he just needed to pay event and farmer’s market fees and procure the necessary food licenses and insurance (he got general liability insurance, a license to sell dairy and a cottage food license).
Shu has a regular booth at a local farmer’s market and has set up at art and community event and coworking spaces in the city. He said the pop-up bar method works anywhere there is electricity — though even that is not essential depending on how you’re serving your coffee. His roasting company was inspired to start a pop-up after he did and opted to make only cold brew iced coffee that requires no electricity to serve.
Shu uses Instagram and Facebook to get the word out about new pop-up locations. He said selling at events around Minneapolis has helped him get exposure.
“We went with this pop-up bar concept to go out into areas of the city that might not have a specialty coffee shop. Because the coffee industry is so competitive, only people in your neighborhood might know about and visit your shop. But I really feel like pop-ups get the word out.”
Some coffee shops have adopted mobile setups such as trucks and carts that can be parked at events. “With coffee it’s a lot easier to do a mobile setup than some of the other food items out there,” Shu said.
Restaurants and retailers
Chris Treter, owner of Higher Grounds Trading Co., a coffee company with a shop in Traverse City, Michigan, started his business after meeting coffee growers in Mexico. He began importing beans from farmers he connected with there. Then he contracted a roasting company to handle the processing. Eventually, his business expanded and he invested in his own roaster and brick-and-mortar store.
Treter said adding a wholesale business — he sells to restaurants, grocery stores, retailers and others — has increased revenues and awareness of his company. He started off distributing to local businesses, but his coffee is now available at major chains including Whole Foods. Customers have even come to his Traverse City shop when they’re visiting because they saw his beans sold elsewhere.
Getting his product onto store shelves involved connecting with local buyers and restaurant owners to talk about his coffee.
“The process was and still is going to buyers and showing them why our product was unique and will outsell others,” he said.
Starting a roasting operation to sell his beans as a wholesaler required a few local and state permits, as well as health inspections and insurance. Laws vary by location, so research the requirements in your area.
Churches and fundraisers
Another avenue Treter has used to grow his business is selling beans wholesale to churches and fundraising groups at a small discount. That his coffee is organic and fair-trade has sweetened the deal for churches in particular. Some sell the coffee by the bag to their parishioners for fundraisers or use it for brewing at events.
Higher Grounds also makes its coffee available for school fundraisers so kids and parents can sell individual bags.
Shu said his company sells bags of their beans and growlers of cold brew online. Though sales are slower than at his pop-ups, he said selling online is great for customers who were exposed to his beans at events and want to keep buying.
Treter’s online business has grown as he’s gotten his brand in grocery stores, restaurants and retailers. He said customers have seen his beans or tried his coffee outside of Michigan, then continue to buy online. Higher Grounds also sells on specialty coffee websites such as craftcoffee.com as well as through online grocers.
“Small business has the opportunity to play with the big boys with a small investment to sell online,” Treter said.
Now that’s a perk.