• Home
  • >
  • Food Industry
  • Scalding-hot Competition: Specialty Coffee Brands Battle to Stand Out

Scalding-hot Competition: Specialty Coffee Brands Battle to Stand Out

specialty coffee

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Speaking at Expo West 2024 – amid a veritable sea of vendor booths – CEO Josh Wilbur spoke well of his specialty coffee brand.

“One of the main differentiators we have from the existing coffee (market) is offering something new that hasn’t existed. We’re doing something innovative,” the CEO of Steeped Coffee said.

Wilbur’s brand is attempting to launch a “brew-volution” (to quote its website) by offering steeped brew bags of coffee from fully compostable packaging. In other words, Steeped aims to offer ultra-premium coffee that can be brewed as simply as tea.

As unique as that sounds, the coffee category features no shortage of innovation, from fledgling brands hailing from southern California, Vietnam, and beyond.

Evolving trends in 2024 include (but are hardly limited to):

  • Mushroom-infused coffee
  • Nitro cold brew
  • Vietnamese coffee
  • Italian coffee
  • Shade-grown Indian coffee

Wilbur said imperatives for coffee brands include not just providing high-quality coffee but doing so in a sustainable manner.

“We get the best coffee that we can; we try to partner with ethical coffee companies. We always try to do direct trade, or organic, fair-trade coffee,” Wilbur said. “Everything we do is compostable; (we’re) trying to really raise the bar for our packaging.

“It’s a new, simple brewing method that’s sustainable,” Steeped’s CEO added.

In the specialty coffee segment, it has become all-important for brands to be able to make ethical claims.

“People care about where they spend their money and want to support businesses with good business practices through ethical sourcing but also employee well-being. Consumers are more critical than ever,” said Laila Ghambari, an industry veteran who ran retail and education for companies like Stumptown Coffee Roasters earlier in her career.

In a similar vein, Eric Gantz, co-founder of Verena Street Coffee Co., noted: “I’ve heard it referred to as ‘LATTE culture,’ wherein consumers seek local, authentic, transparent, traceable, and ethical products in more and more of their purchasing habits.”

Coffee brands are still clamoring to provide convenience for busy consumers, too.

“People want simple things in their lives that make their routines,” Wilbur said about single-serve coffee, to “give them valuable time back, but also give them an enjoyable ritual every day.”


The Food Institute Podcast

Controlled environment agriculture saw tons of interest and investment in the post-pandemic period, but how are macro-economic conditions impacting the sector in 2024? Agritecture founder and CEO Henry Gordon-Smith joined The Food Institute Podcast to break down the sector’s prospects, technological advancements, and what types of foods are being grown indoors.