Uel Zing Coffee will end our bottling operation at the end of 2017. It’s a bummer, and it may come as a surprise, but it's also a relief. After almost five years, we’ve worked really hard and learned a lot, but we’ve concluded that our high-quality hand-made single-serve beverage sold at a reasonable single-serve price point is an unsustainable equation at our scale. In other words, it’s a volume game and we just haven’t been able to hit the volume we need to make it work. We’re extremely grateful for all the support we’ve received over the years, and I’d like to explain the decision a bit more.
We believe in our product 200%. By focusing on a quality product, I figured the money would follow. But our specialty grade coffee, our sturdy bottles, and doing everything by hand is just too expensive for what people are willing to pay. Of that $4 retail price, we make less than $2 per bottle after the raw costs of coffee and packaging—which doesn’t include wages or any other overhead. So yeah, you’ve got to sell A LOT of ‘em to add up to much. We tried to sell more and more, and sold most of our coffee in the big city of Indianapolis, but still, in hindsight, it seems like a crazy pursuit.
Did we try absolutely everything? No, I’m sure we didn’t. But we learned that coffee in general is a very trendy, competitive space. When we chose not compete with other local coffee shops by choosing to distribute bottles, we ended up competing against Starbucks, Coca-cola, Red Bull, etc., and they’re much stiffer competition: recognizable, globally distributed, and cheap.
Uel Zing is not a failure. I feel bummed that I couldn’t make this thing fly and what that means for inspiring other entrepreneurs, but I know I worked as hard as I could with the resources I had. We learned a lot, we made a few jobs, and we brought joy and good coffee to local folks. It was a good run.
In the spring of 2013, I took my New York barista experience and my entrepreneurial family’s encouragement, and started Uel Zing Coffee. I built a yellow cart and biked around Bloomington to sell cold brew iced coffee: one thing, one size. Since then, Uel Zing has grown and evolved: coffee carts, coffee shops, bottles sold at nearly 50 locations across Bloomington and Indianapolis (including The Kroger Company), a Farmers’ Market booth, and nitrogen-infused kegs. We even won 3rd place at America’s Best Cold Brew Competition at the 2017 National CoffeeFest in Nashville, Tennessee!
At this point, I’d like to shout out to all the folks who helped me make coffee along the way (I hope I didn’t forget any): Lindsay, Chris-Krill, Wes, Brian, Adrian, Charlie, David, Chuck, Jenna, Leah, Liv, Brenton, Iann, Laura, Max, Austin, Kahler, and Jade. There are many more people and organizations who deserve a thank you, too, but this isn’t the Oscars.
Moving forward, we hope Uel Zing will live on somehow, but it’s really up in the air at the moment. In the meantime, I’ll keep designing and building things and trying to make the world a better place (I’ll be responsible for fewer plastic bottles now!). I may become a blogger, I might deliver IKEA furniture to Bloomington (IKEA mUEL, anyone?)... or, hit me up if you got a job ;)
Also, Lindsay and I have a BABY GIRL on the way!!! So yeah, that’s a big part of this decision, too!
Thanks for reading this far, thanks for understanding, thanks for all the support, and thanks for drinking Uel Zing Coffee. It’s the end of an era, but not the end of our entrepreneurial journey.