Taste Radio Episode 115

Death Wish Coffee: Mike Brown

+ Birch Benders


A disillusioned accountant quits his job and enters the coffee industry, where he builds a thriving direct-to-consumer business selling high-test coffee beans — that’s the short take on Mike Brown, the founder and CEO of Death Wish Coffee. But there’s a longer tale to be told, and in this week’s episode we sat down with Brown, who launched Death Wish in 2012, to talk about his unconventional brand, which is promoted as “The World’s Strongest Coffee.” In our conversation, Brown discussed the company’s origins and early struggles, the evolution of its e-commerce strategy and approach to community-building, and the amazing story of how Death Wish scored a free Super Bowl ad.

To pair with the coffee, we also have a serving of pancakes. While Aunt Jemima and Bisquick may be the two best known brands in what’s traditionally been a sleepy category, retailers aren’t sleeping on Birch Benders, which launched in 2011 and markets traditional and functional pancake mixes, including its best-selling Paleo variety. The fastest-growing brand in the category across all channels, Birch Benders products are now available nationwide in more than 8,000 retailers, including Target, Whole Foods, Safeway, Sprouts. We spoke with founders Matt LaCasse and Lizzi Ackerman about how they identified and assessed the market opportunity for a premium pancake mix, why gut instinct is a key component of the brand’s innovation strategy and how they overcame a global egg shortage that nearly derailed a critical retail partnership.

In this Episode

1:24: NYC, VC, NBS: On location at BevNET Live Summer 2018, the hosts remarked on a pervasive sense of enthusiasm at the event, discussed John Craven’s interview with Vita Coco co-founder and CEO Mike Kirban, and shared their thoughts on a few of the participants from New Beverage Showdown 15.
8:50: Interview: Mike Brown, Founder/CEO, Death Wish Coffee — In our interview, recorded in the Taste Radio studio at BevNET HQ, Brown spoke about what makes the company’s e-commerce strategy so effective and explained why customer acquisition is “all about a relationship.” He also explained how a feature on “Good Morning America” almost ruined the brand, the company’s all-in approach to winning a free Super Bowl ad, and why he believes that “brands will have to be the media companies of the future.”
39:22: Interview: Matt LaCasse and Lizzi Ackerman, Co-Founders, Birch Benders — Recorded at NOSH Live Summer 2018, LaCasse and Ackerman explained how they identified an opportunity to innovate in the pancake mix category and how they achieved traction with the brand. They also discussed the role of data in business planning and new product development and why “at the end the day, you have to trust your gut about things.” Ackerman also explained why it’s important for entrepreneurs to “get a little over your head sometimes.”
59:36: Tribute: Anthony Bourdain — Ray and Mike shared their thoughts on the recent passing of Bourdain, a cultural and culinary icon whose influence was felt across the food and beverage world.

Also Mentioned

Vita Coco, Origin Almond, Death Wish Coffee, Birch Benders