After moving to Oregon, Voila Coffee Founder Kent Sheridan saw a craft coffee culture bubbling up. He fell in love with specialty coffee – so much so that he carried a backpack with all of his coffee equipment: hand grinder, scale and kettle. Trying to make the best cup of coffee, after all, is not so simple.
“It’s kind of a hassle,” Sheridan told PYMNTS in an interview. That experience got him thinking about what solutions might be out there, and whether anyone had tried to make instant coffee taste good, which “could save people like me from having to carry a whole backpack.” That idea set him on the path to starting his instant coffee direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand, Voila Coffee.
“We’re always striving to improve and … make instant better and better every day,” Sheridan said, adding that the company’s shoot-for-the-stars goal is to make instant coffee better than a pour-over variety. The coffee itself is easy and convenient to prepare. “It will reconstitute with hot, warm or even cool water,” Sheridan said.
Customers have varying preferences when it comes to preparing coffee, he noted. Some will just add milk, others dilute it with more water than the company recommends, while others like more concentrated. Sheridan also pointed out that a lot of people enjoyed iced coffee instead of cold brew. Voila shows its assortment of products on its website, which consumers can decide to buy as a one-time purchase or on a subscription basis.
eCommerce and Subscriptions
Through the company’s subscription offering, shoppers can customize their taste preferences from four different categories: discovery, complex, structured and lively. Customers are not tied to a contract: They can subscribe one month and cancel the next month if they choose. As the PYMNTS Subscription Commerce Index found, 95 percent of the top-performing subscription merchants in Q4 2018 implemented plan changes.
But a subscription does allow consumers to use the product on a regular basis, which saves money in the long run. Sheridan, for instance, has made pour-overs that don’t taste how they should, and then ends up wasting the cup. The subscription program provides a way to have a “consistent and reliable” cup of coffee in the back pocket, he said. For eCommerce, the company uses Shopify to power its site.
In the past, Sheridan had a more fully custom website, which was struggling with issues and bugs, but he describes the current system as bulletproof. For payments, Voila uses Stripe. On the consumer end, the company accepts credit cards and debit cards, along with digital payment methods such as PayPal and Google Pay.
Over the past few years, there has been a shift from the start of the craft coffee movement to a space that contains higher-quality products. In the first wave, cold brew became more prevalent, centered around having a ready-to-drink item. That mindset has since evolved to the mentality that excellent coffee can exist outside of a few fantastic cafes.
Voila Coffee is among multiple disruptors in the DTC coffee space. At Swift Cup Coffee, for instance, consumers can buy nine different coffees (instant) as a one-time purchase. They can also purchase a two-cup sampler, although its core product is a six-cup box. Consumers can also purchase a subscription, which is a collection of Swift Cup’s current offerings. Nate Kaiser told PYMNTS in an April interview that he started the company “to help make great coffees a little bit more accessible.”
Trade Coffee takes a different approach with an onboarding questionnaire. The process asks customers questions such as “What roast level do you typically enjoy?” and “Do you add anything to your coffee?” The latter question is important, according to CEO Mike Lackman in a January PYMNTS interview, as one of the biggest flavor dimensions is whether customers put sugar or milk in their coffee. (Like Voila and Swift Cup Coffee, Trade Coffee offers subscriptions as well.)
From Trade Coffee to Swift Cup Coffee to Voila Coffee, online disruptors are making specialty coffee more convenient with the help of eCommerce and subscriptions.