Protein coffee debuts in a K-Cup format

by Monica Watrous
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LonoLife protein coffee K-cups
LonoLife Protein Coffee is a savory blend of Kona coffee with 10 grams of protein from hydrolyzed collagen..

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego-based start-up has created Protein Coffee, a savory blend of Kona coffee with 10 grams of protein from hydrolyzed collagen. The product is available in single-serve pods, or K-Cups, for Keurig coffee brewers, as well as stick packs. For LonoLife Inc., which earlier this year debuted bone broth in a K-Cup format, the launch of Protein Coffee is a “natural outgrowth,” said co-founder Jesse Koltes.

Traditional bone broths are made from roasted animal bones that are simmered for extended periods, from about 12 to 48 hours, with the goal of extracting the nutrients, minerals, gelatin, collagen and amino acids. These benefits appeal to health-minded consumers; however, sipping a hot soup lends itself to limited consumption occasions, Mr. Koltes said.

Jesse Koltes, LonoLife
Jesse Koltes, co-founder of LonoLife

“For a large portion of the year or even a large portion of the day, no one wants to reach for soup,” Mr. Koltes told Food Business News. “And so we tried to take the benefits from the bone broth and put it into a more accessible beverage, which is coffee.”

But developing a great-tasting coffee with added protein and no sweeteners proved tricky, Mr. Koltes said.

“We were really looking for the cleanest, most nutritious source of collagen,” Mr. Koltes said. “That was something we had to tackle on the soup side. And then I had to lean on the expertise of my co-founders who had been working with coffee for decades, and they just brought to the table a bunch of really strong coffee pairings that probably wouldn’t have been intuitive to the average R.&D. scientist.”

LonoLife protein coffee K-cups
LonoLife Protein Coffee is available in single-serve pods as well as stick packs. 

Formatting the product for use in Keurig coffee brewers also presented challenges.

“The K-Cup is a wonderful piece of technology, but it has a couple of sticking points,” Mr. Koltes said. “The first one is solubility. Brew time is under 30 seconds, and you have to make the entire solution go through a hole the size of a pin, so anything that doesn’t flow really quickly gums up the machine, and your consumer gets really mad because not only did the product not work, but it created a mess.”

LonoLife Thai Curry beef bone broth K-cups
LonoLife became one of the bestselling bone broth brands on Amazon in its first year on the market.

For now, Protein Coffee is available on-line at lonolife.com and Amazon. The company’s bone broth products are sold in about 1,500 stores and became one of the bestselling bone broth brands on Amazon in its first year on the market.

The company remains bullish on the K-Cup format, even after the Campbell Soup Co. discontinued its line of K-Cup single-serve soups this past April due to low sales. Campbell’s product, which launched in 2014, included a pod of powdered broth packaged with a packet of dried vegetables and noodles.

LonoLife chicken bone broth K-cups
LonoLife remains bullish on the K-Cup format.

“The reason I think Campbell’s failed is because they introduced a two-step solution to the Keurig for soup; they had a broth cup and a soup packet,” Mr. Koltes said. “At the end of the day, the Keurig is fundamentally a one-step piece of technology, and as soon as you introduce a second step, consumers don’t understand why they aren’t reaching for their microwave or stovetop to make soup.” 

Additionally, he said, Campbell Soup “introduced a pretty unhealthy product, loaded with sodium, no protein. We did the opposite. A reasonable amount of sodium for taste and a high dose of protein.”

Looking ahead, LonoLife will continue to develop and launch nutritious food and beverage products, but not necessarily in a K-Cup format.

LonoLife beef bone broth K-cups
LonoLife offers a range of bone broths in K-Cup formats.

“We think really the magic of the product is the food itself,” Mr. Koltes said. “It’s great to be in K-Cups, and we’re committed to that format, but really at our core we’re committed to making good healthy food.

“The bottom line is there are a lot of K-Cup households out there, but there’s a lot more that don’t have K-Cups, and there are a lot of food occasions where you don’t have a Keurig machine. So we will be introducing other healthy beverages outside of the K-Cup in the next year.”
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