Tester was inspired by the pumps of sweeteners and flavorings that sit behind the bar of a typical coffee shop.
“It was a lightbulb moment—imagine if those [pumped out] multivitamins,” he told NutraIngredients-USA. It seemed like a great product form to get people to be healthier, he thought.
Several entrepreneurs have played with the idea of incorporating micronutrients into the morning cup of joe ritual, such as VitaCup or NutriCaps, both of which offer coffee pods for machines like Nesspresso or Keurig that are fortified with vitamins and minerals.
The premise is that, for many people, it’s easier to forget to take a multivitamin than to forget taking one’s morning coffee. Marrying the two routines would increase compliance of micronutrient intake.
Tester’s company Coffee Boosters, launched in 2017 after several years of market research and product research and development, is anchored to this idea. The company has a line of five flavorless liquid supplements in 8.45 fluid ounce bottles, which consists of Mind, Multivitamin, Antioxidant, Immunity, and Collagen.
Tester said he has always been interested in health, nutrition, and fitness. After graduating from university, he worked for a company (a start-up, at that time) called Liquid Nutrition. “The concept was like a GNC and a Jamba Juice,” he said.
After he first got his coffee add-on idea at a coffee shop, the first products were made using bulk ingredients bought on Amazon. After some trial and error, he hired a co-packer with an R&D lab to help develop proprietary formulas.
It first launched in Canada before entering the US last year. Today, it is available in 3,500 bricks-and-mortar stores, including GNC, Whole Foods and Loblaw’s in Canada, and Hy-Vee, Giant Eagle, and Fresh Thyme in the US.
Where do coffee boosters go in the store?
Tester’s company is carving a new niche in the packaged goods sector, and one tricky puzzle to solve early on was where to properly merchandise Coffee Booster in grocery stores, an important retail channel for the company.
The products are shelf-stable, which means they do not need to be in the cooler. But do they belong on the shelf with other supplements, or perhaps placed next to bags of whole and grounded coffee beans?
“Retailers had a lot of ideas of where they thought it might be best placed. We tried everywhere: In the supplement sets, with coffee, with functional beverages,” Tester said. “Ultimately, the product sells when it’s merchandised beside coffee.”
It becomes an impulse purchase, and people connect with it well, he added. Starting recently, Coffee Booster’s strategy is to place products in the coffee aisle.
Supplements, functional ingredients in the foodservice channel
Another major challenge in carving a new product category is building consumer awareness.
“Once a consumer tries it and it lives next to a consumer’s coffee maker, it become part of their routine much like creamer or sweetener,” Tester said.
“But the gap is the initial trial,” he added. If pouring nutritional add-ons into a cup of coffee has never been a routine habit before, it’s not an easy task to sell these products and make sure they keep selling.
Now that Tester and his company has data showing that Coffee Booster’s sales perform well when merchandised with coffee, the next step is to penetrate the coffee category deeper.
“We’ve created some pretty exciting partnerships with some of the largest equipment manufacturers in North America that supply some of the larger foodservice chains with coffee equipment,” he said.
The company partnered with SureShot Solutions in June, a dairy and flavor dispenser. In the Fall, the company will start a partnership with an office coffee-machine supplier.
“The whole idea is going back to the roots of wherever you can brew or consume coffee, there will be an opportunity to trial coffee booster, and hopefully that would drive traffic to buy it off the shelf,” he said.
How this effort plays out remains to be seen, as Coffee Booster has the unique challenge of creating awareness around a flavorless product. "The gap is 'how do I know it's in there?' People like flavor because it indicates something is in there," Tester said.
"But what we found was that people are very specific about coffee. It's actually to our benefit, you make your cup of coffee just the way you like it, and what we will do is make that cup of coffee healthier for you. That's the message we're promoting on social media, it's enhancing the ritual."
A good amount of time during the product development stage was spent on getting health claims approved by Health Canada, Canada’s health authority which has more stringent laws on dietary supplements (called Natural Health Products there) than does the US Food and Drug Administration.
“We do have claims associated with our product, though nothing major,” he said. “We have our health claims approved and Health Product Numbers as well,” referring to identification numbers that Health Canada grants to products in the category before they can launch to market.
One example of health claims for the product line can be found in the Collagen product. “The claim is ‘helps to reduce joint pain associated with osteoarthritis,” Tester said.
The Antioxidant product comes with the claim ‘an antioxidant source for the maintenance of good health.’
“The whole premise is, for a lot of people,we’re a starting point to helath and wellness, so there aren’t any major claims. We’re a step in the process,” he said.