Caribou Coffee is launching a new type of store that only has drive-through and walk-up windows.
The tiny-store format, called Caribou Cabins, is aimed at on-the-go customers, or those who don't mind sitting outside. The move is an attempt to stay relevant in the steep — and fast-moving — competition for America's morning cup of coffee.
"As the coffee-shop experience has evolved, speed and convenience have become really key," said Kayleen Tecker, Caribou's marketing and communications manager. "Whether making your coffee at home or getting it in a store, there are more and more options to get your morning coffee than ever before."
At just 600 square feet, the "cabins" won't have any in-store seating. Tecker said "the experience of dining in, sitting down with family and friends, won't ever go away, but these are locations where a more residential coffee shop didn't make sense."
Brooklyn Center-based Caribou also announced Monday that a new line of energy drinks, dubbed Caribou Bou-sted beverages, which include sparkling waters, sodas and juices made with caffeine from coffee beans, ginseng and guarana extract. These beverages will initially launch at the new Caribou Cabins, along with the traditional drink menu. The cabin stores will have a pared down food menu with select breakfast sandwiches and baked goods.
The idea for the drive-through cabins came from John Butcher, Caribou's new chief executive and former Target Corp. executive. Butcher, who took the helm two years ago, has been focusing on making more dramatic changes within the 26-year-old company, specifically around speed and convenience.
To make the drive-through concept work, Butcher had the team explore every way — from the kitchen layout to steps taken in making a drink — that they could shorten the prep time. Tecker said the quality will be the same as a full-sized Caribou, but just faster.
The first five Caribou Cabins, which will harness the company's Northwoods vibe, will open this fall and early winter in Jordan, Burnsville, St. Peter, Big Lake and Willmar. Caribou picked these locations for their easy-on, easy-off highway access.
The company said it plans to roll out several more in the next two years, including possible locations outside of Minnesota, where Caribou has lower brand recognition than in its home state and where competition for speed is fierce, Tecker said.
Just don't expect any Caribou Cabins in Minneapolis, which recently became the first U.S. city of its size to ban any new drive-throughs for restaurants, banks or other businesses.
"Caribou Coffee will continue to lean into the Northern roots that made our brand what it is today. We are confident that our new Cabin concept will differentiate us even more," Butcher said in a statement.
The news comes just weeks after the company unveiled a new line of ready-to-drink cold-brew coffee, which is another grab for on-the-go consumer dollars.
JAB Holding Co. bought Caribou in 2014 for $340 million. The parent company owns an array of well-known chains, such as Panera Bread and Krispy Kreme. Caribou has more than 300 company-owned locations nationwide. It has hundreds more franchise stores domestically and in 11 countries.
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767