Coffee Pls, founded in 2014, is a Chinese coffee brand that focuses on affordable, high quality instant coffee in portable packaging. With a brand concept of “boutique and portable”, its main target market is female between 22 and 30 years old. In 2015, Coffee Pls entered Tmall and opened a flagship store.
In 2020, the Chinese instant coffee brand completed a 10 million RMB angel financing. In November 2020, Coffee Pls has been ranked first in the coffee market during the Double-11 Shopping Festival with a 21-million sales revenue record.
Package design based on co-branding and popular IP
Coffee Pls has co-branded with more than 400 brands/IPs which allows it to gain popularity in a very short period of time. For instance, in August 2020, the Chinese instant coffee brand partnered with Snoopy for a gift box to celebrate its 70th anniversary. In September 2020, Coffee Pls worked with QQ Music for a co-branded freeze-dried coffee, stickers and 7-day VIP experience card from QQ Music. These fun and unique collaborations cater to new trends, and thus, perfectly catches attention from the target market.
Source: Coffee Pls official weibo account, designed by daxue consulting; F&B market in China report, co-branding strategy examples
Strategy 1: Using quality ingredients as a selling point
The Chinese instant coffee brand collaborated with a Japanese coffee factory to develop Flash Brew Coffee that can be stored at room temperature for an entire year. The concentration in Flash Brew Coffee is ten times stronger than regular coffee, and it includes a wide selection of flavors such as hazelnut, black coffee, black tea, Kyoto matcha and so on. This coffee extracted with unique technology caused a heated discussion on social media. The majority expressed excitement as this product brings convenience and is cheaper than foreign brands.
Aside from flash brew coffee, the Chinese instant coffee brand has also promoted Super Freeze-dried Coffee that can be dissolved within 3 seconds in any liquid. During the 6-18 Tmall shopping festival in 2019, the sales volume hit 1.5 million boxes.
Strategy 2: Different types of social media content to match consumers’ tastes
Coffee Pls has different focuses when it publishes content on different social media platforms. On Weibo, it focuses on promotion of co-branded coffee products. The “good taste, never alone” campaign with more than 36 brands successfully brought 10 times more traffic to its Tmall flagship store than the same period in the previous year. On Bilibili, the Chinese instant coffee brand publishes video series titled “Challenge the 1001 ways of drinking coffee”, with the purpose of demonstrating that its coffee can be dissolved in and enjoyed with any other beverage, such as peach juice, black tea and mint soda. On Xiaohongshu, Coffee Pls focuses on sharing customer experience and receiving feedback from loyal customers.
Strategy 3: Converting public traffic into private traffic
Coffee Pls has utilized an IP figure named Shiduanzheng (“石端正”) to privately communicate with customers and build a more loyal relationship. Customers are guided to follow Coffee Pls’ official WeChat account, add a private WeChat account called Shiduanzheng who will then send customers codes to claim free gifts and a personal invite to a WeChat group. The strategy of “private traffic” has been very popular in China and adopted by many industry giants such as Perfect Diary. The Chinese instant coffee brand has attracted tens of thousands of people to join the WeChat groups, and the discussion continues to be very active. Many customers from this WeChat community have repurchased more than 3 times in 2020.
Coffee Pls’ expansion obstacles
Non-competitive price may hurt people’s desire to buy
The retail prices of the products are non-competitive and even relatively higher in comparison to foreign/imported and other domestic coffee brands. In the meantime, the quality of the products are not well above its competitors and not competitive enough given its high price.
Among the 5 brands listed in the comparison table, in terms of freeze-dried coffee, Coffee Pls is more expensive than Saturnbird but less expensive than S Engine, which a premium coffee brand. In terms of drip bag coffee, it is less expensive than most of its competitors except UCC Coffee. However, with these competitors’ premium, high-end brand positioning, the lower price of Coffee Pls does not reflect its competitive advantage here.
Consumers complain about taste and packaging
Source: Tmall, designed by daxue consulting; F&B market in China report, customers expressed dissatisfaction regarding the flavors and packaging of coffee pls products
The flavors of coffee and the packaging are not up to par and many customers have voiced their dissatisfaction on social media. The majority of complaints seem to surround flavours and taste of coffee. For instance, some people have mentioned that the white peach oolong has “very light flavoring” and that the black tea flavored coffee tastes weird like some medicine. In addition, some people also mentioned that the coffee is harder to dissolve than Coffee Pls has advertised it to be, and that the lid in the UFO-Packaging is hard to open.
What brands can learn from Coffee Pls’ marketing strategies
Regardless of what industries a brand is in, good quality/ingredients go a long way. By leveraging social media and posting contents that fit consumer taste, the Chinese instant coffee brand has successfully attracted more attention and built a closer relationship with its existing and potential customers. This relationship management is further strengthened by turning public traffic into private traffic.