Sales growth for hot coffee might be losing steam, but nitrogen-infused cold brew is a burgeoning category that Deer Park-based Sail Away Coffee Co. hopes will help chart its course toward national expansion.
The company will launch a line of canned nitro cold brew coffee in March, founder Chris Vetter says.
Sail Away, which already has a bottled cold brew on the market, presently only offers its nitro cold brew on tap at restaurants, bars and cafes.
It hopes the introduction of its nitro can line will help expand its footprint both in the New York metro area and beyond.
“We’re hoping this is what takes us nationwide,” says Vetter, 32.
So what’s the appeal?
Nitro cold brew is cold-brewed coffee that’s been infused with nitrogen, giving it a smooth, creamy taste and frothy top similar to what you’d find on a Guinness.
While traditional iced coffee is brewed quickly with hot water and then chilled, cold brew is made by steeping coffee beans for hours in cold water.
To be sure, nitro cold brew has been a growth category within the coffee sector, says Samuel Nahmias, president of Study Logic, a Cedarhurst market intelligence firm.
In 2017, iced coffee consumption out of home grew by 5.1 percent over 2016, while cold brew grew by 14 percent and nitro cold brew grew by 16.2 percent, according to Study Logic.
In contrast, hot coffee consumption out of home in 2017 grew by only 1.9 percent year-over-year, says Nahmias, noting the United States is already a mature hot coffee market.
“The nitro market is very young in the U.S.,” he says. “There is an opportunity for growth for newcomers if they execute correctly.”
Vetter certainly hopes so and says it was a natural progression to offer Sail Away’s nitro cold brew to consumers in a convenient to-go way that they could get outside of bars and restaurants. It’s currently sold on tap at approximately 100 locations, he says.
The company’s traditional cold brew, which Vetter started selling one cup at a time at local farmers markets in the summer of 2015, was introduced in stores that fall. It’s now sold in bottles at close to 200 locations, most on Long Island, and on tap at about 50.
Sail Away has been working to expand its footprint beyond Long Island further into the New York metro area, where it’s only in a handful of locations currently, says Vetter, a musician who turned coffee entrepreneur after touring Central America in 2013 and experiencing great coffee he wanted to emulate back home.
“It was kind of a passion project afterwards,” he says, noting the company’s gotten positive results in the marketplace with its 10-ounce bottles of cold brew, which retail for between $3.75 and $3.99.
The firm produces more than 4,000 gallons of cold brew a month, along with “several thousand” gallons of nitro, Vetter says, adding that revenues have more than doubled since 2015.
Paul Gucciardo, director of franchise operations for Bohemia-based SoBol, which has 18 locations selling acai bowls and smoothies, says Sail Away “has been well received by our customers.”
Some of SoBol’s locations sell Sail Away’s cold brew bottles, while others sell its nitro and cold brew on tap, he says.
As for adding the cans to the mix, Gucciardo said, “it’s certainly an option we would give to our franchisees.”
Sail Away isn’t the first to sell nitro cold brew in a can, but says it is a pioneer of nitro cold brew on Long Island.
Nitro’s introduction dates back to around 2012, but it really didn’t become popular until 2015-2016, says Peter Giuliano, chief research officer with the Santa Ana, California-based Specialty Coffee Association.
Beer brewers started using nitrogen in their kegs more than a decade ago, and the coffee industry eventually followed suit.
This idea of connecting coffee and beer was a powerful concept because “it appealed to younger consumers who also were part of the craft beer movement,” says Giuliano. He says he’s optimistic about future growth potential.
“It sort of resonates with all the good things about cold brew plus you’re adding this kind of cool creamy frothy head aspect to it,” he says.
Sail Away plans to launch its can line in stores and online early next month, Vetter says.
It’s taken months to get ready as the firm worked on perfecting the process, which included making sure the nitrogen held and didn’t escape from the cans and ensuring the shape of the can worked with a nitrogen infusion.
To make the nitro brew, Sail Away steeps its beans in temperature-controlled cold purified water for more than 24 hours and then infuses that cold brew with nitrogen.
Canning and bottling take place at its Deer Park facility. Vetter says the beans come from a private Long Island-based roaster he declined to identify.
The canned nitro brew will come in three flavors — sweetened, salt and caramel, and unsweetened — that will retail for between $4.25 and $4.50 per 11.5-ounce can.
The cans will be available in most of the stores that sell bottled Sail Away products now, Vetter says, and he hopes to expand distribution from there.
“We feel this will definitely take us to the next level,” he says.
At a glance
Company: Sail Away Coffee Co., Deer Park
Owner: Chris Vetter
Products: Cold brew coffee on tap and in 10 oz. bottles, nitro cold brew on tap and in a soon-to-be-launched line of 11.5 oz. cans
Monthly production: More than 4,000 gallons of cold brew, plus several thousand gallons of nitro cold brew