Nils Leonard, the former chairman and chief creative officer of Grey London, is breaking into the fast-growing coffee pod market with the launch of a new brand, Halo.
Halo claims to be the first fully compostable coffee capsule and is positioned as "The world's best coffee in a way that's best for the world."
Mr. Leonard is expected to launch a London agency after his non-compete expires, but in the meantime he offers a fascinating glimpse into what can happen when an ad agency insider steps outside that world for a while. Especially someone with a passion for both a new product—better coffee—and a cause like sustainability.
Working with Stink Productions and the Creative Partnership team at JC Decaux, Mr. Leonard created an ad that ran on the giant digital screen at London's busy Euston train station. The work graphically illustrates the startling fact that 13,500 capsules are put into landfill every minute. An online version expands on the message.
Mr. Leonard, who quit Grey last summer said, "The best brands are the ones you can imagine launching any product and you would know how it would feel – like if Audi launched a vacuum cleaner. We wanted Halo to feel good. It's super simple and behaves like a premium brand. After 20 years of looking after everyone else's brand, it's terrifying creating your own."
Already the Halo team is looking ahead to other possible coffee-related product innovations, including more energy-efficient coffee machines, which are based on technology that is over 20 years old. Mr. Leonard added that future Halo branded products might not necessarily be coffee-related.
Mr. Leonard said, "In advertising, there is a lot of talk about IP, but it tends to mean thinking up a new product that people wouldn't give a s**t about. In our game we get close to clients and we see what's needed. There wasn't an amazing coffee capsule, and [existing capsules] are killing the planet. We've solved those problems."
Halo capsules are compatible with popular Nespresso coffee machines, but at $12 for 10, they cost up to three times as much as their mainstream rival. The premium prices reflect the premium coffee they contain, including Kopi Luwak Diamond beans, which have not previously been available in capsule form.
Mr. Leonard met his Halo co-founders, David Foster and Richard Hardwick, through a former colleague at Grey. He said, "They were making the most amazing coffee at events, and they showed me an early version of the Halo. I'd read about the problem and we worked together to innovate on the pod."
The fourth partner in Halo is Andrew Richardson, who was previously a business director at Nespresso. The four men are backed by a small group of investors.
Halo has signed deals with three hotel chains, and is available to buy online at halo.coffee, either as a single purchase or on a subscription model. It can be shipped anywhere in the world, and there is also a K-Cup version ready for the U.S.
Asked whether the Halo brand could withstand the competition from Nestle-owned Nespresso if it develops its own compostable pods, Mr. Leonard said, "I hope they do. Frankly it's disgusting they haven't changed much – it's because they haven't needed to. It's a sickening waste and it will be illegal in a few years' time. Then everyone will be making [compostable pods] and the difference will be in who does it better and whose coffee is better. I'd go toe-to-toe with anyone on this."
Halo capsules are made from natural fibers including bamboo and paper, and biodegrade completely within 90 days alongside kitchen waste. Rival compostable capsules have to be sent to a municipal composting facililty.
Mr. Leonard started his career as a designer at several London agencies, then joined Grey as a creative director almost a decade ago and transformed the agency. Now, he is keeping busy outside of the advertising space, and is also looking at launching an entertainment platform that he describes as a "new way to enjoy the technology that we love."
His time away from advertising has also given him a new perspective on the industry. He said, "Working at an agency, we wait to be asked to pitch, then we pitch for free, give our ideas away for free, and if we do win the business we pray that the ideas get made. When did we become so dependent? We are the ones with the ideas. The industry needs to remember how good it is, and what a clever, connected, ambitious bunch of people we are."