Every week we ask a local business or product to introduce themselves in eight simple takes. This week we talk to Harpoon Cold Brew’s Arjun Haszard, who’s in the business of brewing one of the trendiest coffees out there this summer.
ONE: How did Harpoon Cold Brew start and what was the inspiration behind it?
I started Quick Brown Fox Coffee Liqueur in 2012 from Dunedin, which grew organically throughout the country with production always done in-house. Three years later, I saw the potential in cold brew and realised that I was essentially making large volumes of cold extraction for the liqueur.
I found two business partners to join the voyage: Tod, a mechanical engineer who had designed a piece of equipment for Quick Brown Fox to make larger volumes of cold brew, and Dave, who had started a mobile pizza business in the UK (Home Slice Pizza) and had recently returned to New Zealand after a nine month stint building in Antarctica. Both were looking to get their teeth stuck into something and the three of us set a plan to grow Harpoon Cold Brew. We’re all based in different cities with myself in Auckland, Dave in Wellington and Tod in Dunedin.
TWO: Did you have any interest/experience in business or entrepreneurship prior to starting Harpoon?
I’d moved to Dunedin (following my heart) and couldn’t find a job. With time on my hands, I started tinkering around with making coffee liqueur and then realised there was a market for a premium quality coffee liqueur since coffee had changed so much but liqueurs hadn’t. Starting up [Quick Brown Fox] wasn’t out of seeking financial gain, but out of a combination of curiosity and desperation of not being able to find a job.
THREE: For those unfamiliar with what cold brew is, how is it different from just regular iced coffee and why do you think it’s become so popular over the last few years?
Cold brew is the process where one uses cold water to extract flavours from the coffee, while iced coffee is a hot extraction turned cold. With cold brewing, you get the more delicate flavours coming through and exclude the bitterness and strong acidity of a hot extraction. This, in turn, makes it a very clean, refreshing way to drink coffee. Because of the bitterness, iced coffee tends to be doused with milk or sugar to be palatable.
I’d say the rise in popularity of cold brew has been linked to a rise in craft beverages, and also an increased awareness of coffee brewing methods. Cold brew excites us because we’re a coffee business, but we’ve jumped over the fence to the beverage game.
FOUR: What goes into making your specific brand of cold brew? Are there any special methods or techniques you use to get the right taste?
We spent a lot of time finding the right blend and roast profile of the coffee. We wanted to make a cold brew that was definitely coffee, but also chocolatey, moreish and suited to the New Zealand palate. We felt that as a dedicated cold brew company, we needed to be a shining example of what cold brew was since it was likely going to be someone’s first experience of drinking cold brew.
Scaling up was indeed difficult, and with no textbook on how to make large volumes cold brew, we needed to create our own equipment. This was Tod’s job and he’s built a range of complex and unique pieces of equipment to brew our cold brew. We’re very proud of our unique production set up and have developed an intimate understanding of cold brew as a result.
FIVE: Who would you say are your main customers/target market?
We feel the most love from people who are on a health or fitness journey and have found enjoyment in the convenience and taste of our product. There’s also a side niche of people who seem to love energy drinks and buy Harpoon because of the caffeine without any sugar or anything artificial. I personally like the idea of being able to have a clean tasting, delicious coffee in rural areas where if you go to a cafe it’s normally over-extracted and dark-roasted. So we’re trying to distribute far and wide! We sometimes find people who really hate the product, and we’re OK with that – I think these people tend to prefer bowl lattes, and that’s certainly something we’re not.
SIX: What’s it like being a business in a very crowded industry like food and beverage in New Zealand?
This is a very topical question because our competitors could potentially be the largest companies in the world. I think we’d embrace that challenge and if they ever put out a product in this category, it’d be a net gain for us. I’d say less than 1% of New Zealanders even know what cold brew is and if [our competitors spent] advertising dollars educating people [about it], I think we’d be in a better place.SEVEN: Do you any plans to scale/grow further and if so, what are they?
We’ve pretty much always been [about] slow, organic growth. However, our recent entry into mainstream grocery (all Countdowns, many Z energy stores, an increasing number of New Worlds) has meant a steep learning curve into the world of FMCG. It’s as if suddenly there’s pressure on all aspects of our business, which in turn costs money to grow. We’re very excited at that growth prospect and foresee Australia as a viable next market for us. I dare say, we’re still struggling to keep up with demand in New Zealand, so it’s more likely going to be a ‘next year’ goal.
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EIGHT: Lastly, tell us about a start-up or business that you really admire right now.
The most interesting startup I’ve seen recently is Lone Bee Sparkling Honey Mead. Both of our companies had a stall at Taste of Auckland 2017 and I loved the story, the people, and the brand, and the product was exceptional. I get excited when I see new beverages like this. I also have great respect for companies like Six Barrel Soda Co., who continue to lead the way impeccable design and product range.
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The Spinoff’s business section is enabled by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.