When Culture Club released its 1983 single “Karma Chameleon,” the song instantly became a global sensation. Although not yet on the global scale, Austin, Texas-based Chameleon Cold-Brew with its array of refrigerated ready-to-drink (RTD) cold brew and coffee concentrates has become a “hit” in the beverage market.
According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chameleon Cold-Brew’s self-titled black cold-brew coffee concentrate is the No. 1 brand by sales, generating $2.7 million, a 302 percent increase year-to-date in the national refrigerated coffee concentrate segment. Meanwhile, in U.S. supermarkets, drug stores, mass merchandisers, gas and convenience stores, military commissaries, and select club and dollar retail chains, its full lineup of coffee concentrates are No. 3 with $1.6 million in sales, a 210 percent increase, in the 52 weeks ending May 15.
Yet, prior to Chameleon Cold-Brew’s launch in 2010, the startup company faced many obstacles, according to Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Campbell, who previously worked for a financial consulting firm before finding his true calling, he says.
“Leading up to and after my departure from consulting in 2008, I spent many long hours working [at] coffee shops around the country,” he explains. “During this time, I met my founding partner, Steve Williams, who owns a successful Austin coffee shop. We saw the success of his cold brew served at the shop and saw an opportunity to bring cold brew to the masses.
“There were many hurdles to overcome. We had no experience in making or manufacturing a beverage and opted to do so in a new category,” he continues. “We had to figure out how to make our product, package it and get it to market. We did it all from scratch with very limited resources. All of our equipment came from homebrewing, and we had to convince each and every supplier that we were worth taking a risk on. … The same when soliciting distributors and retailers.”
Yet, the duo overcame these obstacles with sheer perseverance, good fortune and by being honest and ethical business people, Campbell adds.
“The first year, we sold about $75,000 worth of coffee. In 2015, we were well over 100 times that number from 2011 [and] will produce millions of bottles in 2016,” Campbell says.
With a well-developed flavor profile based on a formula Williams crafted in his shop, Chameleon Cold-Brew initially produced three flavors of its cold-brew concentrate — Black Coffee, Mocha Coffee and Vanilla Coffee — that are available in 16- and 32-ounce glass bottles. Its fourth flavor, Caramel Coffee, was released in January and is exclusively available in 32-ounce bottles at Target stores nationwide. It also manufactures a fifth variety, Pecan, for H-E-B and Central Market stores in Texas.
Additionally, it produces 10-ounce RTD coffees in six flavors: Black Coffee, Mocha Coffee, Vanilla Coffee, Mexican Coffee, Chicory Coffee and Espresso Coffee.
Because consumers are trending toward less sweet varieties, its unsweetened black coffee is the company’s best-selling RTD, while the Mexican flavor is quickly gaining ground, Campbell says. Additionally, he points out that the brix levels are higher and typically there is more caffeine in the brand’s concentrates, which can be diluted to give consumers more options.
“When done right, cold brew is smooth and delicious, lacks bitterness and packs a big caffeine punch. All of these factors are on-trend right now,” Campbell explains. “Also, it’s a time-consuming beverage to make at home, making the convenience of packaged products, like Chameleon Cold-Brew, very appealing.”
‘Treated with care’
The company sources all of its 100 percent organic, Fair Trade certified Arabica coffee beans from farms in South and Central America, and blends four to six coffees to create its consistent and unique flavor profile, it says.
“We invest a lot of time and resources in making sure our coffee is the very best and that it is treated with care throughout the harvest, importing, roasting, brewing and bottling. The time and care that we take in crafting our brew is what makes it the best,” Campbell says.
He adds that the brand’s packaging also has contributed to its success. “Our chameleon mascot, aka ‘the Dude,’ really resonates with people,” Campbell says. “Our packaging is clean, clear, approachable and different from other items in our set.”
A new tag line, “Coffee Made for Makers,” also helps to clearly align the essence of the company, he adds.
“For us, using organic coffee is important because it’s how many of us within the company live day-to-day. … We’ve always had a grand vision for Chameleon Cold-Brew,” Campbell says. “We started the company with a passion for and commitment to building a large business that would change the way people think of liquid coffee. That said, the pace of growth and change (especially in the last two years) has been very exciting. I’m proud of the choices we made. It feels great.” BI