Every devotee of natural and organic food has his or her favorite bread, energy bar, kombucha brand. But there’s one product that local titans of the industry are coalescing around: Alpine instant coffee.
The upstart brand, less than two years old, has been endorsed and funded by Steve Hughes, founder of Boulder Brands; Hass Hassan, a Whole Foods board member and partner in Boulder’s Greenmont Capital, a natural brands fund; and Jane Miller, former CEO of Rudi’s Organic Bakery.
This month, Alpine Start Foods also received an investment from Slow Ventures, a San Francisco VC firm with a stacked portfolio that includes Tumblr (sold to Yahoo for $1 billion in 2013); cosmetics company Birchbox, Pinterest and Slack.
We caught up with Alex Hanifan, one-half of the Alpine founding team that also includes Matt Seagle, to learn how to brew a coffee company so great it set the natural food world buzzing:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1.) Confession: I’m not a coffee drinker. What was wrong with instant coffee that it needed a reboot?
I really wasn’t much of a coffee person either. Matt (Segal, a professional climber and Alpine co-founder) was more the coffee person than I was. But if you’ve ever tried Folgers or Maxwell House or even Keurig, which I consider like an instant coffee, they taste burnt and bitter. It’s not the most pleasant way to start your day.
One the other end, you can do a French press, which takes a lot of time, or go to a coffee shop and spend $3 to $4 on a cup of coffee. Americans drink three to four cups a day on average, so that adds up.
We’re an alternative if you don’t want to drink the low-quality coffee at the office or spend $4, four times a day. And it’s great for when you’re travelling or outdoors, like camping or climbing. You can mix it with any sort of liquid: with some ice and water and have an iced coffee, or with some almond milk.
We’re part of this third wave of instant coffee that actually tastes good and is affordable. We sell for about $1 a cup, and found a coffee that is low acidity so it’s easy on your stomach. We tested and went through process experimenting with 100 different styles of manufacturing and found the perfect one, to where we looked at one another and said, ‘This is it.’
2.) What manufacturing style did you go with?
It’s more of an Italian style. It has a special temperature with the roasting and brewing that’s a little different from what others do, to get rid of the acidic and burnt taste.
Our coffee beans are single-origin arabica from Colombia. We do all our manufacturing in Italy. The company itself is based in Boulder.
3.) When and where did you and Matt meet?
Matt and I were roommates maybe six years ago. That’s when I was at Rudi’s in the marketing and innovation department. He and I would always brainstorm ideas of new products to launch when we lived together. He had this idea of reinventing instant coffee. When I left Boulder Brands after Pinnacle bought it, the idea came back up and we decided to go for it.
4.) How did you get all this support from big names in natural food?
I’m from Boulder, so the natural food world has been in my blood since day one. I’ve worked for all of these guys somehow. I started at Justin’s Nut Butter and went to Rudi’s, which is where I met Jane. Then she went to Hains Celestial, and I went to Boulder Brands and worked there for two years.
I’m also the vice president for Naturally Boulder, so I’ve also just met a lot of these guys through that group as well. When Matt and I started it in July 2016, it just totally blew up. Everybody was so excited about it. We launched with REI nationally, then got into Whole Foods and H-E-B in Texas.
So I went back to some of these people I had relationships with and they got us through a pre-seed round that was $250,000 collectively. Slow reached out to us and said, ‘We love the coffee space, we love what you’re doing.’ And they got us to just over $1 million in funding.
Boulder’s an amazing place to start a food business. We have an amazing advisory board filled with some legacy food veterans.
What’s the plan for the money?
We’re trying to get into retail as much as we can and push in e-commerce. In addition to our distribution with REI, Whole Foods and H-E-B, we’re in about 300 mom-and-pop grocery and outdoor stores, like Alfalfa’s and Lucky’s and Neptune.
We’re also bringing on two people to our team. And we have a bunch of new products launching in January. Still in the instant coffee category, but some different flavors, some blends with non-dairy and organic creamers.
We’re just growing and growing.
(c)2017 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)
Visit the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) at www.dailycamera.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.