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Breaking into Grocery

How Groundwork Coffee Became a National Brand Through a Can

There is no denying that CPG and RTD were vital to many businesses over the last year. Groundwork Coffee is a roaster and retailer based in Los Angeles, CA, and grocery, which helped keep them afloat through the turbulent year. But how did they get that foot in the door?

Groundwork is a relatively small company with 12 cafes, and 70% of their business coming from food service. Despite this, they have RTD cold brew distributed throughout 40 states in the US, with only two people leading the sales force. I connected with Groundwork Sales Manager, Craig Mueller, to discuss how they have managed to grow this market channel.

Straight off the bat, I asked, “What is the secret sauce for getting into grocery? Advertising? Using Brokers? What?”

Craig laughs a little and comes right back, “It’s a combination of things. First, our brick and mortar coffee shops gave us visibility and conveyed our brand image and reputation for quality. Then it was the quality of the product.”

Groundwork is uniquely positioned by having both a roasting facility and a cold brew facility. They control the quality control process on everything from the sourcing and roasting of the coffee to the brewing and packaging. They also prefer to self-distribute to see the final product to the end-user. Self-distribution can be an occasional hindrance to some large box retailers, but it is considered an asset for most. Controlling these steps also allows them roast and brew to order when they receive a PO rather than holding more extensive inventory.

“That’s all fine and good but assuming everyone has a good coffee, what made the difference in growing the grocery business?” I ask.

“The biggest thing is having a great brand story and compellingly communicating that. Creating relationships and then always adding value to those relationships. I spend a lot of time just talking with our partners and asking what works and what doesn’t work. They all respond heavily to our brand story and then pass that along.”

“How do you grow from your local specialty grocers to being in 40+ states?” I follow.

“Showing traction and sharing data. Once we get into a store, we try to help push our product however we can. Whether through TPR (temporary price reductions), social media ads with geotags to push products in those local markets, or digital coupons to get people ordering from their phones. Once we can show a great performance, we take that track record and show how successful we are. We used to do some demo programs; however, they are costly and do seem to yield the best results for us.”

“What’s next for Groundwork?” I ask.

Craig quickly answers, “We have been incredibly focused on updating all our systems to support our coffee shops with mobile ordering and updating our website with more robust e-commerce. These tools will help us grow in the new environment, and we will continue to push in the CPG and RTD streams.”

What this small sales force has been able to accomplish with a relatively small coffee company over the last five years is impressive. I’ll be watching to see where their products pop up next.

by Jake Leonti

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