MAKAWAO - Mike Abrams has entered the crowded breakfast cereal market with what he considers a competitive edge.
The Maui-based food scientist says he's created the world's first coffee-infused cereals.
Abrams and his business partner, Chuck Mason, recently launched Cappuccino Crunch - a line of four flavored, toasted rice flour cereals.
Maui-based food scientist Mike Abrams has launched Cappuccino Crunch cereals, which he says are the world’s first coffee-infused cereals. The cereals, sold in 8-ounce bags that resemble packaged coffee grounds, are available through four retailers on Maui.
The Maui News / NANEA KALANI photo
"It's another way for coffee lovers and tea lovers to enjoy coffee and tea, without having to wait for it to brew," he said.
A half-cup serving of the cereal provides the equivalent amount of caffeine in a quarter-cup of coffee or tea.
Abrams, who earned a food technology degree from Ohio State University, specializes in food flavorings. The Ohio native has been concocting custom flavor formulas for specialty coffee and tea companies since the 1980s, including Lion Coffee in Honolulu. The cereal line is his first foray into manufactured food.
Abrams said he initially had the idea for a coffee cereal two decades ago as he watched the specialty coffee and tea market gain steam.
"I dreamt up this idea probably 20 years ago," he said. "But I was thinking that some other big coffee company like Starbucks or The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf would come out with something, so I was afraid to get started on it."
"Three or four years ago, I saw nobody did it yet, and the industry and per-capita spending on coffee was going through the roof, so I decided to go for it," Abrams said. "I figured, if I strike out, at least I can claim I was the originator."
The coffee and cereal industries are big business. U.S. cereal production generated revenues of $11 billion last year, according to market research firm IBISWorld. The U.S. coffee industry is valued at an estimated $19 billion annually.
Abrams and Mason have spent the past two years tweaking the proprietary recipes for the cereal's Kona Blend, Mocha, Cappuccino and Chai Spice flavors.
Mason, a photographer and Web designer, said he was initially brought on to help with marketing and package design.
"I got more and more involved as we went along," Mason said. "I'm a big coffee lover. I absolutely love coffee and chai. I think this will do really well."
The coffee cereals are flavored with 100-percent Arabica coffee beans from around the world. The Kona flavor uses 10 percent Kona coffee from the Big Island.
"It's taken two years to formulate it correctly. Originally, it tasted terrible and bitter," Abrams said. "After two years in the formulating lab, I'm hoping the products will speak for themselves."
The cereal line is a division of Abram's custom flavoring business, Flavor Waves Inc., which he runs out of Makawao.
He declined to disclose his financial investment in the new business, other than to say it's "taken a lot of time, effort and money."
The cereals - which are manufactured on the Mainland - are all natural, gluten and cholesterol free, and low in sugar and fat.
"We'd love to make it in Hawaii, but there are no manufacturers here, and I don't have the capital to invest in the special equipment required," Abrams said.
The cereals are packaged in 8-ounce slender bags that resemble a bag of coffee grounds and sell for $5.99 on cappuccinocrunch.com.
"We wanted them to stand out from an ordinary box of cereal," Abrams said.
The company also has created green tea, black tea and decaffeinated flavors that currently are only available in bulk.
Cappuccino Crunch has been able to secure eight retail partnerships statewide since launching in Hawaii in early August. On Maui, the cereals are sold at Anthony's Coffee Co. in Paia, Maui Coffee Roasters, the Maui Tropical Plantation and the Maui Culinary Academy's food court at the University of Hawaii Maui College campus.
To help get its brand out, the company will be a sponsor of this year's American Windsurfing Tour at Ho'okipa Beach Park in October.
"We're starting with a grass-roots effort here in the islands, in our own backyard. We're trying to make a market for it," Abrams said.
Later this month, the company will showcase its cereals at the annual Coffee Fest trade show in Seattle and in April at the Specialty Coffee Association of America trade show in Boston.
While the business is still new, Abrams and Mason already have ideas for expanding their product's reach.
The company has created single-serve disposable bowls with peel-back tops for an on-the-go version of their cereals.
The partners also want their products to expand beyond the breakfast table. Abrams says the cereal's small size makes it ideal for topping frozen yogurt and ice cream, blending into trail mix and granola, and mixing into chocolate candies.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.