Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods persuaded customers to go for cowless burgers. Atomo Coffee wants to do the same for coffee.
The startup, which launched in 2019 and offered a limited release to the public in September, makes a canned cold brew designed to taste like coffee and give you an energy boost – but it’s not made with it. coffee beans. Instead, the brand uses a combination of date seeds, chicory root, and grape skin, along with caffeine, to mimic traditional coffee.
Most of those ingredients are recycled, the company said, which means if they weren’t used by Atomo, they would likely be thrown away. Date seeds, or kernels, are usually “scattered around the field,” said Andy Kleitsch, CEO of Atomo. “We are giving them a second life.
But that’s not the company’s only green selling point. Atomo used a service called Carbon Cloud to calculate its own footprint and looked at research on the environmental impact of coffee to see how its process stacks up, Kleitsch said. He concluded that Atomo’s product uses 94% less water and produces 93% less carbon emissions than conventional cold brew coffee.
Atomo’s talk is similar to the plant-based alternatives to meat that have become popular in recent years: produce the product in place – in the case of Impossible and Beyond, animal protein, in Atomo’s. , coffee – is bad for the planet. This alternative is better, at least according to Atomo.
The company is still in its infancy. It has a Seattle-based plant that can pump 1,000 servings a day, according to Kleitsch. Ultimately, the startup wants to offer a wider assortment of products, including instant coffee and grounds. He plans to go into retail next year.
The opportunity for a company like Atomo is great. But it will have many challenges, including convincing customers of its environmental claims. Moreover, in order for Java drinkers to buy his coffee without coffee, he will have to prove to them that it is as good as a real cup of coffee.
Is there a market for coffee without coffee?
Because it could end up on store shelves next to cold brew cans, Atomo could take advantage of the growing ready-to-drink coffee market which Euromonitor International says reached $ 4.4 billion in 2021.
There are also opportunities in the still emerging market for coffee alternatives, said Matthew Barry, senior beverage consultant at Euromonitor International, as coffee crops fall prey to extreme weather conditions. Severe drought and unusual freezing conditions in Brazil, the world’s largest supplier of coffee beans, have taken their toll on the coffee market this year.
Someday, “high-tech solutions of coffee analogues and cultivated coffee could be used for daily caffeine needs,” and supplement the traditional coffee supply, Barry said.
The popularity of plant protein has also paved the way for a concept like Atomo’s, said Jim Watson, senior beverage analyst at Rabobank.
Consumers might “expect companies to use technology to do more for us,” he said, replacing traditional products with healthier or more environmentally friendly alternatives. Someone who sees that Atomo uses recycled ingredients might think, “I’ve found a coffee product that fits these trends perfectly… I should try this,” he said, adding that Atomo has. the opportunity to potentially unblock a different consumer who was looking for something coffee didn’t offer. “
But Atomo may not have convinced everyone of his ecological principle.
Kleitsch warns that climate change and growing demand for coffee will force coffee farmers to find new land and cut more trees to do so.
Coffee cultivation has certainly led to deforestation, and there are still many coffee plantations that do not use sustainable practices, noted Tensie Whelan, director of the Center for Sustainable Business at the NYU Stern School of Business who previously was president of the Rainforest Alliance. .
“Conventional methods … of growing coffee present significant challenges,” she said.
But there would be downsides to completely replacing coffee beans, she stressed. “When grown in a sustainable manner, it is a very important source of income for local communities as well as a positive environmental benefit,” she said. Growing coffee in a sustainable manner can contribute to biodiversity, she noted, adding that “It’s too simplistic to say that [growing coffee] always results in deforestation. “
Kleitsch agrees that there are sustainable ways to grow coffee and, given the high demand for the product, doesn’t think Atomo is going to shut out local farmers. But he doesn’t think sustainably grown coffee will be enough.
“Everyone will have to meet the demand for coffee,” he said. “We’re just trying to meet this demand in a way that causes as little damage as possible.”
The test of taste
To really put consumers in their corner, the company will have to win on another crucial factor: Taste.
“When we launched, we thought real coffee connoisseurs would hate us, honestly,” Kleitsch said. “It’s actually the opposite.”
CNN Business asked Tom Bomford, coffee manager at New York’s upscale coffeehouse chain Black Fox Coffee, for his take on the drink. He said he thought the Atomo product could indeed pass for the real thing… with one caveat.
“It tastes like cold brew coffee,” Bomford said. “Just bad cold coffee, maybe.”
It might not be a rave review, but the product still managed to exceed Bomford’s expectations. “If you like cold brews, there’s a good chance this is right for you,” he said.
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