Weaving coffee culture into her eponymous modern general store in Sag Harbor, Lynda Sylvester endeavored to connect the community and causes with handcrafted cold brew. With the help of co-founders Vivian Polak and Michelle Francis, Red Thread Coffee Co. did more than give patrons their caffeine fix. The certified organic, fair trade, single origin coffee serves as a means to connect people with those in need, giving back to local charities that fight hunger. Following quick success, the woman-founded, women-run company has relaunched with a new look and distribution strategy under the guidance of new CEO Kelly Reilly.
Talking about consumer products is natural for Reilly, who has more than 20 years of experience in leading roles at beverage giant Ocean Spray. The shift from a major established brand to a startup is new to her, but the business ethos Red Thread Coffee Co. was founded on is a driving force.
“My first impression was that this was an amazing product with an amazing mission, created by amazing women,” Reilly says. “Lynda didn’t just want to sell cold brew. She wanted to give back to the community. It’s amazing coffee to its core and it’s philanthropic. I don’t want to tinker with that.”
According to the new website, the company name refers to a Far Eastern legend that says from birth, the gods connect each person by an invisible red thread to everyone they are destined to help in their lifetimes. With that in mind, two cents from every bottle sold goes to organizations like God’s Love We Deliver to fight against hunger, giving the beverage purpose.
The mission, method, and flavor of the coffee remains the same, but the brand has found a new look. After focus groups with millennials, the consumer driving the growth of cold brew, Reilly found that while the smooth, rich, coffee forward cold brew and the company’s core values in everything from the ingredients to giving back were a hit, most couldn’t tell from the label what the coffee was. With that, a new label clearly communicating the premium beverage was created.
Glass bottles now clearly explain the different types cold brew, like dark roast made with Sumatra Ache, medium roast Nicaraguan Segovia, naturally flavored chocolate almond or caramel hazelnut, both made of Peru Cajamarca coffee. The next step was to take the marketing and distribution, which Polak and Francis had begun in New York state, to a higher level.
Both educating consumers unfamiliar with cold brew, which is brewed in cold water, unlike iced coffee, and introducing the product to cold brew believers is essential. “The best way to get a product in people’s hands is to sample it in the store,” Reilly explains of the process of choosing select retailers to test the product and work out any kinks before making a national move. “They’re more likely to put it their shopping cart and from the demos and promos, we’re getting the feedback we need.”
Reilly’s sights are set beyond the east coast, targeting retailers with a high concentration of millennials that value the stories behind the brands they buy. By partnering with local retailers that also believe in supporting local communities, they advance the mission. The Fresh Market, Whole Foods and Stop and Shop are just a few retailers carry the brand, as well as Provisions Natural Foods Market and Café in Sag Harbor.
Maintaining Red Thread Coffee Co.’s authenticity is important to the founders and to Reilly. Sylvester continues to help the brand from an innovative standpoint, while Polak, who sits on the board, is thought of by Reilly as a mentor and daily counsel.
“Red Thread is not a marketing gimmick,” she says. “It goes back to three women giving back, and they’re serious about it. Millennials are serious about companies that give back, as well as ingredients. They know what fillers are, they know what fair trade means. It’s not only about what you’re putting in your body being good for you. It’s about doing good, too.”
Learn more about Red Thread Coffee Co. at redthreadcoffee.com.