Arlington, Virginia-based Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters sits at the intersection of two of the hottest trends in the food and beverage industry today — nitro cold brew coffee and the movement by startups to disrupt and disintermediate traditional retail channels, like grocery and convenience stores, by offering food and drinks on demand where people live, work and play.
Robert Peck, CEO and co-founder of Commonwealth Joe, said his company isn’t simply offering cold brew coffee to the public in cafes, or to retail stores in cans or bottles like numerous other companies. Instead, Peck, a former management consultant who specialized in customer experience, describes Commonwealth Joe as “a technology-enabled specialty coffee company that offers full-service, kegged beverage experiences where people live, work and play, including offices, residential apartment buildings, gyms, sports stadium, universities and other places where people regularly congregate throughout the day.”
Peck said the secret sauce fueling (or perhaps caffeinating) the company’s success and growth is a two-part recipe: quality coffee roasted under the supervision of co-founder, master coffee roaster and mom Julia Peck, and its patented Kegerator Smart Vending Machine. Invented by California-based Smart Beverage Technologies, the machine enables Commonwealth Joe to offer premium nitro cold brew coffee on tap 24 hours a day, seven days a week at almost any public venue it wants to serve. (Nitro cold brew coffee is infused with nitrogen to give it a rich, creamy head, similar to nitro draft beer.)
Vending 2.0: Coffee meets tech
The high-tech Kegerator vending machine is a self-serve, pay-by-the-ounce, electronic kiosk that serves nitro cold brew coffee and other craft beverages like the popular kombucha on tap and by the ounce, which enables consumers to pay for only the amount of beverage they want to drink by simply swiping a credit or debit card.
Peck said he believes this innovation puts Commonwealth Joe in the catbird’s seat of what today’s busy consumer is craving — which, he said, is the ability to get what they want to drink, whenever they want it and wherever they want it.
“Consumers crave a variety of premium craft beverages throughout the day,” Peck told CO—. “Traditionally, you’ve only been able to get cold brew and kombucha at coffee shops and grocery stores, but there isn’t always a store nearby. Our on-tap program using the Kegerator allows us to provide premium beverages to people wherever it’s most convenient for them. We are creating a brand-new channel and route-to-market to reach beverage consumers.”
Commonwealth Joe is doing so in part by monitoring users’ drink orders. “Our Kegerators are connected to the internet, part of the internet of things (IoT),” Peck said. “This allows us to gather valuable data about our customers so we can make their experience with our coffee and service a better one. And soon, the technology will allow the vending machines to be self-ordering, which will help ensure we never run out of cold brew and kombucha and further improve the experience for our customers.”
Our mission is to make every tap a smart tap and to create amazing beverage experiences for people wherever they live, work and play.
Robert Peck, CEO and co-founder, Commonwealth Joe
New investment caffeinates growth
Robert and Julia Peck started Commonwealth Joe in 2012, when Robbie and three friends started bagging mom Julia’s roasted coffee in a garage and offering free samples at local farmers markets. From there they started selling the coffee to retail locations like Arlington, Virginia coffee shop, The Java Shack.
In 2015, the self-funded startup began to experiment with cold brew and nitro cold brew coffee. The company bought the Java Shack that year and, in 2016, built its own Commonwealth Joe branded cafe in Pentagon City, Virginia, which is home to the headquarters of the U.S. military.
But it was the discovery of the tech-enabled Kegerator and the idea to offer nitro cold brew coffee at office and apartment buildings that provided the business model for Commonwealth Joe that it’s focused on since then and will drive growth, Peck said.
“We are laser-focused on the institutional business and plan to put our kegs of nitro cold brew coffee, kombucha and other craft drinks in every office complex, apartment building, gym, stadium and other public and private places … starting in 2020,” he said.
Fueling this growth is a $4 million in funding the company raised this year. It’s looking to raise a total of $11 million over the next couple of years to turbo-charge its growth plans, Peck said.
“We used the initial investment funds to build out our infrastructure and team,” Peck said. “Now we are ready to expand our sales and distribution efforts big time starting in January 2020,” he said.
Commonwealth Joe’s geographical focus for 2020 will be on the mid-Atlantic states and the East Coast, Peck said. The startup will decide by the end of the year if it will go national with its high-tech nitro cold brew and craft beverage on-tap, on-demand service.
“Our mission is to make every tap a smart tap and to create amazing beverage experiences for people wherever they live, work and play,” Peck said. “We do see a national market for what we do. We’re simply proceeding in a smart, measured way in order to maintain the superior quality of our product and continuously improve the experience we bring to consumers.”
Tapping the next ‘hot’ trends in cold brew
Commonwealth Joe, which Peck calls a digital-first beverage and technology company, said it’s mulling the introduction of a nitro cold brew oat milk latte on tap, which he predicts will be the newest hot trend in cold brew in 2020.
“Cold brew is at the point where it’s ready for innovation and new iterations,” he said.
What’s more, he predicts that nitro cold brew hot coffee (stored cold but served hot), cold brew craft sodas and mocktails (non-alcohol cocktails made with nitro cold brew) are the other big innovations to watch for in 2020.
“We’re perfectly positioned to be the on-tap, on-demand nitro cold brew and craft drink innovator too,” Peck said, “because we have the combination of technology and product secret sauce [referring to his master coffee roaster mother, Julia] to be able to do things others can’t.”
Peck, who told CO— he believes in superpowers and that his are grit, passion, discipline, stamina, resilience and a relentless drive to perfect customer experience, said Commonwealth Joe is ready to lead the charge in disrupting cold brew coffee and craft drinks in America, along with how and where people buy and drink it.
“Our mission is to serve people the best drinks on the planet and to do it wherever they are and whatever time of day it is,” Peck said. “Our team is pursuing this mission with passion and using all our [collective] superpowers.”
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Published December 16, 2019