There’s gold in them beans, or at least that’s what Prospectors Cold Brew Coffee Company seems to be striking. The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based startup has vaulted in less than two years from a bootstrapping local cold brewer to a mainstay in scores of markets and groceries throughout the region with its RTD products.
“We’re everywhere in the Midwest right now,” Prospectors co-founder David Wentworth told Daily Coffee News. “We just launched into Meijer.”
The recent deal will put Prospectors Cold Brew products on the shelves of more than 200 additional stores around the region, where it’s also already for sale in local independent markets, as well as other large chains such as Kroger and Whole Foods.
At the core of the product is their custom house blend, for which they originally relied upon the prowess of local Grand Rapids micro roaster Rowster Coffee for their coffee supply. About two months ago they shifted their business to the larger Lansing, Mich.-based Paramount Coffee, which has been in the industry since 1935 and is better equipped to scale up at the rate that Prospectors has been rocketing, Wentworth said.
The current blend is now part Guatemala, part Nicaragua, and Wentworth said roasting it themselves is something the company has considered for the future. “We have a five-year goal of doing that,” said Wentworth. “We just want to make sure all of the avenues are right before we follow a new project like that.”
These avenues are not only the revenue-related financial ones for acquiring equipment and establishing suppliers, but also the careful selection of a team of experienced roasting professionals to see it through.
“The way we’ve gotten where we are is we’ve brought in the right people who know what they’re doing,” said Wentworth, who does not presume to be able to roast himself to the level of his partners so far. “We’ve partnered with some top-notch roasters, so we would definitely look to someone to take that roasting to the next level.”
Meanwhile, Wentworth’s business partner Eric Pearson, whose family runs the fresh-cut-produce business Pearson Foods Corporation, certainly knows what he’s doing when it comes to producing and distributing food-related products, particularly on the grocery circuit. Said Wentworth, “He was pretty well-versed in some of the areas that we needed to get into, such as production, scaling, regulations, and the network that we needed to get our product out to stores.”
Neither Wentworth nor Pearson, who have been friends since childhood, have any formal background in coffee. Both certainly enjoy drinking the stuff, and in dealing with a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, it was Wentworth that first grew frustrated with how limited his options were for cold, refreshing coffee drinks among the conventionally accessible selection. While visiting California a few years ago, Pearson shipped home to his friend some samples of RTD cold brews he was finding out there, including Stumptown, Secret Squirrel and products made by Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Seaworth Coffee Co..
The quality of those drinks ignited in the duo their dream to provide an equivalent resource to their Midwestern home market. So it was, that in July of 2014 Prospectors Cold Brew Coffee Company launched their own line of cold brew from within the Grand Rapids City Market Incubator Kitchen. After consulting and taste-testing among professionals as well as friends, the process came down to a 16-hour steep of their roast in triple-filtered water, then subjecting the brew to a proprietary four-part filtration process.
Currently, the product line includes two pure-coffee offerings — Original and Extra Strength — as well as Almond and Almond Maple low-calorie, dairy-free latte-style varieties. There’s a Prospectors nitro coffee available for wholesale in kegs, and a vanilla flavor is soon to launch based on customer requests. Other seasonal flavors such as Pumpkin Spice and Mexican Mocha come and go over the course of the year, and the company is experimenting with some more adventurous possibilities for the future.
“One of my personal favorites is a cracked peppercorn cold brew coffee,” said Wentworth. “It adds a nice earthiness to the coffee that makes it very smooth.”
For all of their flavored products, however, it’s still the coffee that comes first. “We really want to focus on what the coffee can do, not what the additives can do. All of our coffees are going to taste like coffee first,” said Wentworth, adding that by keeping their products low-calorie and low-sugar, they’ll all be accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
And they do mean everyone. Prospectors is currently in the process of securing a 1,500-square-foot production space in which they’ll soon transition in order to grow and distribute into markets beyond the Midwest.
“We’re trying to go national here pretty soon,” Wentworth said. “We’ve had some interest from a lot of different people from throughout the country that I think will help get us there for our two-year goal.”