New Ground Coffee - turning good R&D into a strong business

FOODBOWL

20 January 2021

Turning new product research and disappointment into a strong business

All good products go through a rigorous R&D stage. New Ground Coffee co-founder Connor Nestor laughs that their particular research and disappointment process has been extensive. “But every disappointment comes with great learnings and we have landed with an incredible process which allows us to extract all the good tasting solids out of a coffee bean on a commercial scale.”

It all started as a desperate plight, when in a remote Kiwi bach for a week, they discovered the coffee beans had not been packed. GASP! Turning to the meagre pantry supplies, they found long abandoned instant coffee at the back of the cupboard. “We decided then and there had to be a way to create instant coffee that packed a real quality coffee punch.”

Both Connor and his mate, and now business partner, Barnaby Marshall worked in the hospitality scene – they know good coffee. Launching the business started as an idea to create a marketing company, but Connor says they have ended up as manufacturers and engineers. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

A bit of research showed these caffeine aficionados that a Kiwi was one of the first to pioneer instant coffee back in 1890. Game on – the challenge was to be the clever Kiwi’s to take instant coffee to an entirely new level. The research and disappointment development started in earnest.

This led them to The FoodBowl and after an initial product meeting, they made another U-turn. What they originally thought would be a freeze drying exercise, turned into using membrane extraction technology on a reverse osmosis (RO) machine, typically used for dairy products.

“The challenge was to find a way to extract all the solids and flavour in the bean. In a café, this is done serve by serve in an espresso machine – how could we replicate this at scale?”

Working with The FoodBowl team, the duo became very clear about how they could utilise the RO machine to create a highly concentrated extract which could then be freeze dried – producing a better tasting, higher quality and denser product with a higher yield. A trial run was as smooth as the coffee produced. “This was such a good experience, and the team was so helpful. They asked lots of questions up front so by the time we went into the trial, everyone was clear about the outcomes we wanted.” The engineers were brought in to help customise the machine operation specific to their needs.

“It was such a smooth operation. The flexibility to take a specialty piece of kit, and customise it to our needs and then to be able to lease the equipment and take into our own premises enables us to create our product and grow our business.”

“This machine is so important as we scale up.” Asked what direction they would have gone in without the RO machine: “it would have been hugely expensive exercise as we would have had to get something custom engineered. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the trial at The FoodBowl and ability to lease this machine.”

The other critical piece of help the Food Innovation Network was able to provide was a series of introductions to appropriate industry people. “Our key manufacturing partners came through The FoodBowl networks. This is invaluable. And as we were new to the food manufacturing space, they also gave us a lot of help in how to interact with the industry. This really helped a lot.

“The whole experience of being at The FoodBowl has been so awesome – we just love working them.”

R&D round two…

Connor and Barnaby have been back at The FoodBowl trialling another product to add to the range – a RTD coffee made with a plant-based milk. The trial will help them test their theories and ensure the product tastes and performs as it should and has the right shelf-stability. Watch this space!

While their own branded product is entering the market in late 2020, they have been working with coffee roasters from all parts of the globe (Berlin, UAE, Ireland, USA, England and growing monthly…) to use the process they have finessed to create either high quality coffee extract or freeze dried product, which is then packaged and sent back to the roaster/grower.

In addition to developing their own New Ground Coffee products, the pair are also supporting the international coffee scene. “Every roaster or coffee product developer who comes to us has slightly different needs and outcomes – so we will do their new product development, refine the recipe and detail the process. They can then take that tried and tested process to a contract manufacturer… which means they don’t have to go through the research and disappointment themselves,” Connor adds with a hearty laugh.

The FoodBowl comment:

The FoodBowl Client Solutions Manager, Brad O’Callaghan says it really rewarding when you can take what is already a speciality machine and customise it to create a unique processing technology. “Working with our engineering partners, GEA Engineering, we were able to give New Ground Coffee total customisation and then lease them the machine to take to their own premises.” This is the unique advantage the New Zealand Food Innovation Network has - a range of speciality machines, many of which can be customised and adapted, enabling people to trial and commercialise so many different product types.”

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