Is Canned Cold Brew Coffee’s Fourth Wave?

Stumptown-Nitro-Cold-Brew-Canned-Coffee.jpgAccording to Todd Carmichael, founder of coffee chain and industry leader La Colombe, we’re about to witness the fourth wave of coffee consumption in America – and it will be bigger than any of the waves that came before. What are those waves, exactly, and what could possibly dwarf them?

Think of coffee’s first wave as the everyman brew – the reason people get nostalgic for diner drip and Folgers still has enough momentum to surpass all sales expectations. The second wave coincided with the growing popularity of espresso drinks, and the expansion of Starbucks. The third wave (and, we admit, our favorite so far) represented the growing popularity of small roasters treating coffee beans as real ingredients instead of a commodity. Many of the small roasters that represented this trend, like Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle, have since been bought out by larger players, but there are still newcomers who continue to expand coffee horizons with superior quality and innovative ideas. Enter the fourth wave, as Carmichael calls it – bottled (or canned) cold brew.

If your mind goes immediately to the current industry standard in ready to drink coffee – Starbucks bottled frappuccinos – you’re not alone. But Carmichael believes there is a huge opportunity gap between current levels of consumption and the possible market. “They’ve been working for 20 years to get it to $2 billion. Then you look to Mexico, which isn’t really a coffee-drinking country, and their [ready-to-drink] coffee is at $4.7 billion.” Carmichael is working on bridging that gap, with a variety of flavors introduced through channels ranging from local convenience stores to whole foods. One thing is for sure – he’s excited, and who can blame him? Great coffee in a can sounds like a win-win.

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