Blk & Bold Specialty Beverages co-founder Pernell Cezar reached national distribution in Target in less than 2 years. As the Iowa-based Blk & Bold celebrates its 5th anniversary this year, we revisit this interview with him before they became a national sensation.
What is specialty coffee?
Even as a coffee fanatic, I had to ask what is specialty coffee and how is it different? It turns out, specialty coffee is a “fact-based” term, meaning it’s not marketing fluff. Like wine, it has a fact-based point system.
The system for coffee goes from 0-100, with coffee from 80-100 is considered “specialty.” The folks who ensure this system’s integrity are called Q Graders. Because Blk & Bold coffee sits within that 80-100 point system, they are considered “specialty coffee.” Educating consumers on this category has been a big asset Blk & Bold’s product rollout.
Who is Pernell Cezar?
Pernell Cezar is the co-founder and CEO of Blk & Bold specialty beverages. He started his career in Target retail merchandising, helping manage inventory across their supply chain. In that role, he made buying decisions and negotiated with packaged goods companies. He knew this industry quite well before starting his coffee journey.
Cezar has worked on the other side of the table as well, working with a packaged goods company, SheaMoisture, helping them find national distribution. Seeing both sides of the business, prepared him to launch his own brand. Blk & Bold.
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Coffee in a saturated market?
While the coffee market may be saturated, the specialty coffee category is wide open according to Cezar. Because he saw both the retail and product side of the equation, he knew there was an opening for a specialty coffee product.
The road was fast for Cezar (scaling nationally in under 2 years is an amazing accomplishment) but it didn’t just happen. He had to slay plenty of dragons and convince buyers. A key to growth is to master the competitive landscape and the market. If you don’t master them, you very well could be pitching to people who know the market better than you, and know there’s no room.
Cezar is right. Like launching a ship with holes in the bottom, failing to research the market thoroughly will cause your company to sink before it even sets sail. The other major component to growth is to watch for spoken and unspoken clues from interested parties. This could not be more vital.
Blk & Bold’s fast growth
Many brands need billions of dollars to penetrate the market. When you’re a small company, however, what do you do?
For Blk & Bold, Pernell Cezar explains it’s about authenticity in the business model and fitting into an underdeveloped competition landscape. While there is a lot of coffee, there is not a lot of specialty coffee. Cezar believes their educational efforts, have helped them rapidly with them already on the shelves to capture it.
The other aspect to Blk & Bold’s fast growth is Cezar’s deep industry knowledge of how Target works, how national retail works, and how distribution functions. His leadership combines all these assets to address a market opening.
Blk & Bold is a B-Corp: What is that?
Blk & Bold is a registered B-Corp, like Warby Parker, Tom’s Shoes, etc. Receiving this certification is an objective designation that your brand stands for more than just the product they produce.
Cezar confirms the research shows that people will pay more for products that stand for something bigger and value in being a certified B-Corp is the verification Blk & Bold actually does what they say.
Cezar explained the process of becoming a B-Corp is “a pretty arduous assessment that peels back the onion on everything from your environmental impact, equity with your employees, to your local community impact as well as how you score with your own transparency of your impact.” It’s extremely detailed he explains.
B-Corp status is watched by an independent entity, and its entire reputation rides on maintaining great criteria and verifying.