March 28, 2013

Entrepreneur Spotlight – Secret Squirrel Cold Brew Coffee

secret squirrel cold brewWhen you get a tweeet from a company called Secret Squirrel Cold Brew Coffee there’s no way you can’t respond.  What exactly is cold brew coffee?  How’d this business get started?  Not to mention, what about the name (and really eye catching logo!)?

The tweet I’d received invited me to come taste their coffee at the Fancy Food Show so I made sure to stop by (see, Twitter does work!  And yes, their coffee is extraordinarly good – and that’s coming from someone who lives in Seattle, the land of all things coffee).  While at the show I had the chance to meet Trevor Smith (one half of the brains behind the business), admist a frenzy of buyers and he suggested I contact his wife, Rebecca – the other half of Team Secret Squirrel – to learn more about this 18-month old small food business.

Can you explain what ‘cold brew’ coffee is and why it’s different from the traditional ho t brewed version most of us are familiar with?  

Our specially selected organic and Fair Trade beans are roasted to perfection, cold brewed for 18 – 24 hours, double filtered, and bottled quickly.  The result is a smooth, never bitter, flavorful coffee concentrate with chocolate and plum under-tones.  Cold brewed coffee is 67% less acidic than coffee brewed with heat.  To use our concentrate, simply mix 2 parts water or milk with 1 part Secret Squirrel Cold Brew Concentration.  Have it hot or cold!

In a world where there are coffee shops on every corner, were you worried that you were entering a very crowded marketplace?  Was there one thing or one moment when you knew you had to just jump in with both feet and see if this venture would work?

We are lovers of coffee and coffee culture.  Always experimenting with new ways to enjoy our favorite beverage, we began cold brewing coffee at home years ago: experimenting with various coffee beans, roasting profiles, brew times, filtering options, and of course all the great ways to mis and drink the fantastically smooth and flavorful liquid.  Inspired by the growth of the artisanal handmade foods movement and our entrepreneurial spririt, we thought, “This is just too good to keep to ourselves” and Secret Squirrel was born.

Gotta ask, what’s the story behind the name?

On the east coast, people say Secret Squirrel when they know about something great that no one else knows about; like a space that no one knows about yet or a route to somewhere that avoids traffic drama.

secret squirrel cold brew

Where do you produce/manufacture your products?  Do you face any manufacturing challenges in creating a product that taste as good out of the bottle as customers would get in a coffee shop?

We are based in Los Angelos.  Our main challenge is that we brew to order so as to get our customers the freshest coffee but the brewing process takes 18-24 hours so rush orders have another meaning to us than other businesses.

When you first started, did you focus on one geographic region first?  Why? 

Our focus is California first then we will branch out on a national level.  It makes good business sense to us to start where we live and produce.  We believe there is so much power in the movement and we are proud to be part of it.

How has the marketplace reception been? 

Terrific!  We started at the Farmers Market in Studio City, CA and one of our favorite things is seeing the look on someone’s face when they our product for the first time.  Cold brew is still up and coming in the marketplace and the reception from retail outlets and the public alike has been great.

Where are you selling your products today?  Direct to customer, wholesale, some combintion of both?

A combination of online and wholesale currently.  You can find a list of our current retailers here.

What sort of marketing do you do to support your product?  Obviously you’re pretty active on Twitter, what other social media channels do you use?

In addition to Twitter, we have a Facebook fanpage and we also dabble with Instagram.

Regarding selling wholesale, have you found that you have to engage in a different sort of marketing strategy to help support your retailers?  If so, what have you found works best for your product and your budget?

By far the best way for us to support our retailers is by doing in store demos.  We do them always with a new retailer and then as often as we can on an ongoing basis.

secret squirrel coffee

Rebecca and Trevor enjoying some Secret Squirrel Cold Brew coffee!

Your product appeared to be very well received at the Fancy Food Show.  What was your experience like exhibiting there? What has the feedback been?

Yes, it was very well received at the Fancy Food Show and the recent Natural Foods Expo West.  People seem to love the concept, the taste, and the packaging.  It was a great experience I would recommend to any aspiring food entrepreneur.  The feedback, interactions, and connections with customers, food entrepreneurs, distributors, and retailers are invaluable.

Where are you hoping to grow the company to by the end of 2013? What are some of the challenges do you perceive you’ll have to overcome to get there?

We hope to get into more CA stores and attain distribution. The biggest challenge will be to stay focused.  There are many different ways to go with our business that are all tempting but we’ll need to focus on one to be successful.

Entrepreneurship is a hard road, are you glad you struck out on your own? Any favorite memories or experiences you can tell us about that remind you that all your hard work is worth it?

So glad we struck out on our own.  We’ve never worked hardre but been less stressed.  It’s a different kind of feeling when you are able to do things the way you believe is best and then reap the rewards or the failure.

Any words of advice for other food entrepreneurs? 

Remember packaging is almost as important as the food.  Plan for the cost structure to include you, distributors, food brokers, and retailers.  Question everything everyone tells you.  Be sure you are “all in” mentally before you start.

Want to get your hands on your own cup of Secret Squirrel Cold Brew coffee?  Check out their website for more information (they even have t-shirts with their squirrel logo!).

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