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Iced Coffee
Is Now

By Suzanne J. Brown

Remember when iced coffee was leftover, cooled down, muddy brew from the percolator? After pouring it over ice, all that may have been needed was a little sugar and cream to liven it up. There will always be traditional iced coffee drinkers, those so frugal they can’t throw out a drop. Today’s iced coffee carries a whole new concept. Iced coffee, whether from a fountain, granita machine, in a can or bottle, is a world wide phenomenon that provides revenue streams that are soaking the beverage industry with profits. There are different ways of producing and packaging iced coffee. For those reasons, Suzanne J. Brown focuses this article on Ready-to-Drink (RTD) in a bottle or can.

The key to taking the RTD product to market is distribution. The key to staying in the market is having a quality product. The packaging, shelf life and manufacturing are integral to the results.

UCC Ueshima of Japan created the first RTD coffee, produced in a can and distributed through vending machines. Today, that distribution channel continues to serve the Japanese market not only with coffee but also in other new specialty beverages in cans and bottles.

In the U.S., we are slowly moving into vending machines to market RTD beverages. As this trend evolves, vending has become one of the more lucrative distribution channels. Experts in the industry concur that liquid coffee facilitates a better means of processing, uses better materials, sources better coffee and is conducive to better packaging.

In addition to liquid coffee, evaporated milk (sometimes dry solids) and sugar (or artificial sweetener) are the two other important ingredients. Retort has been the more prevalent processing method, but aseptic processing provides newer technology. Japan utilizes the best aseptic processing and packaging. They are also the leaders in this area. The U.S. does have the technology for better aseptic processing, but the government has not approved the packaging to keep up with technology.

There is a newer process called ESL (extended shelf life) that has been used by Morningstar Foods in the recent launch of Folger’s Jakada RTD coffee. This project is the result of a licensing agreement between Morningstar Foods and Procter & Gamble. Jakada is a dairy product sold in 10.5 ounce bottles that must be refrigerated because it is made with fresh milk. It carries a shelf life of 90 days.

When the Coca-Cola Company and Pepsico started marketing RTD coffee - as they have with Frappuccino and Planet Java - the beverage industry started taking notice.

News reports support the specialty beverage phenomenon. In a recent New York Times Magazine article about the new beverages from the Coca-Cola Company, Jeff Gould, one of Coke’s corporate marketing executives was quoted on the changes in consumer beverage habits, “Our core business isn’t CSD’s (carbonated soda drinks) anymore…our core business from now on is beverages.” He identified 32 possible beverage occasions in each day, including an array of out of home, at work, in a restaurant, even while gardening and doing chores as times for drinking different types of beverages, from water (Dasani, of course) to sports drinks.

Recently, a new division of the Coca-Cola Company has been established under the direction of Larry Trachtenbroit, the creator of Planet Java. Called Braintwist, this division will be able to launch new beverage ideas quickly, without the long lead time normally used by Coke for focus groups and sample testing.

“Braintwist is like a farm league,” said Trachtenbroit. “It’s entrepreneurial and will target younger kids, such as those just out of college. If it looks good and taste good, we’ll sell it. It could be bubble gum juice.” Trachtenbroit, who was recently given the entrepreneurial award by Baruch College in New York City, may be right on track if the U.S. has the luck of Japan, where another Coke product, “Qoo” - a children’s juice - is a hot seller.

Look for “Slap”, one of Trachtenbroit’s first products to be introduced any day. It’s a flavored milk based beverage. Other beverage products are under consideration from the major manufacturers; Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Cadbury Schweppes.

So what does this mean to the coffee and tea industry? Starbucks had the answer when it formed the North American partnership with Pepsi for distribution of Frappuccino.

RTD drink coffees and tea, are international opportunities. Dan Cox, president of Coffee Enterprises agrees, “Ground and roast manufacturers will prosper by joining the RTD category. International companies like Nestle and Sara Lee have gone down this road. Some are buying from established vendors and making their own private label brand.”

Quality ingredients using concentrates made of Arabica beans are made especially for RTD beverages. Autocrat Coffee and Syrup of Lincoln, Rhode Island and Beverage House of Cartersville, Georgia are two manufacturers of ingredients for iced and hot beverages. Beverage House is using state of the art technology in producing aseptic beverages from liquid coffee to soy based RTD.

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