AKA Coffee co-founder Brian Jones deep dives into the unexpected experience of completely revamping a brand and packaging without altering the coffee itself.
Ray: I’m Ray.
Kandace: I’m Kandace.
Ray: Welcome. Unpacking Coffee, this week-
Ray: Oakland, California. Why are they called AKA? [silence]
Meet Brian Jones
Ray: Is there someone who is responsible for all this great design work?
Kandace: That would be Brian Jones.
Brian Jones: My name is Brian Jones. I’m one of the co-founders of AKA Coffee. My primary role with the company is that I do all of the design and branding and all of the marketing. I manage our website, help update it when we have new coffees, work with our social media.
Check out our full conversation with Brain where he talks about the importance of design in coffee.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Kandace: I don’t know about you, but I assumed they were much bigger than this. Actually, Brian talked a little bit about how almost everybody thinks they’re much bigger.
Brian Jones: We’re a really small company. There are only four of us, so we pretty much are all hands on deck for other things.
I work remotely most of the time, but when I’m in town I help fill bags of coffee on production day. Whenever we do events, like you met me in Portland, I was there brewing coffee for people and talking with people about the company. I do a little bit of everything.
What’s in a Name
Ray: Why are they called AKA?
Kandace: They were actually founded in 2014, but when they got started they were named Supersonic.
Ray: So they changed their name to-
Kandace: Also Known As.
Brian Jones: We had a trademark dispute with a very large fast food company who took issue with us using the name Supersonic. During that whole process, we were renaming, rebranding, and working on what the future of the company would be. We got to start over in a sense; we got a second change to re-evaluate who we were and how we wanted to represent what we are doing.
Kandace: You don’t often get to see a brand that gets to put their coffee out there, see how the world takes it and then-
Ray: Have a do-over.
Kandace: Yeah, it’s like a do-over.
Second Time Around
Brian Jones: The product was exactly the same, we are still roasting on a Loring. We are still sourcing our green coffee from the same import partners and even some of the same farms. The product, on the inside, didn’t change at all.
There were definitely people who we had to talked to as Supersonic who liked our products, but didn’t really buy from us for one reason or another. Then, as soon as we rebrand, they decided all of a sudden that they wanted to work with us.
Supersonic was very different and that was part of the idea when we launched it. Everything from the name, to the design and the packaging. We used neon green. We used the metallic silver. We used colors and textures that weren’t common.
When you look at café design—approaching this as a wholesale coffee company—a lot of cafes, a lot of time, have a much more organic or tactile aesthetic. You have a lot of wood textures, you have a lot of cozy atmospheres that are designed by coffee shop owners, which is great, because customers love them. We show up with a packaging that is extremely contrasted to all of that, so even if the coffee … Even if people liked the product inside, the packaging and the branding didn’t really sit well on their retail shelves. It was a problem when we realized that we were going to be doing a lot of wholesale coffee. Originally, we had planned on opening our own retail cafes, so we would’ve been able to design the entire experience, and the whole space, that all fit within the brand aesthetic of Supersonic.
Thumbs Up on New Packaging
Ray: He’s done a great done a great job with the packaging, it’s very distinctive. The colors are extremely unusual and very memorable. They have sent this to us before and I remember thinking what an intriguing brand it is.
They use all pastels and grays. I love the way that they’re sort of this blind embossed … Showing a wind pattern, or something. You know those little maps where you can see where the wind shows, like a current.
They have definitely drawn their own custom font there. They’ve even got a little die cut, little notch there, that peachy color on the side. Can I call it peachy? It’s making me hungry.
Brian Jones: At AKA we wanted to address that, so the color palette is decidedly more neutral. But also, I think, still unique in the realm of coffee, by using the salmon, peachy color. We have a palette of different pastels, which are definitely trendy at this point, but I think the way that we have started using them, are still fairly unique in the world of coffee.
We kept that uniqueness, while also creating something that was more approachable and a little more softer. It sits well in a variety of different types of retail environments, which, I think, is incredibly important if you are a roaster who is selling wholesale to coffee shops, because there are so many different types of designs.
And We’re Out
Kandace: Yeah. Do you think-
Ray: I believe we would never … Well, they’re not on our location so-
Kandace: They will, next year. They will, it’s gonna happen.
Ray: That’s great! We’ll visit it. AKA Coffee of Oakland, California.