Caribou, of course, is somewhat limited by its retail footprint.
Internationally, the chain opened its 100th location last month.
And at the end of 2011, Caribou had an estimated 465 locations in
the U.S., according to Technomic. The chain has said it will open
between 55 and 70 locations in 2012. By comparison, Starbucks had
almost 10,800 stores in the U.S., while Dunkin' Donuts had about
Caribou is the fourth-largest chain by systemwide sales in the
limited-service coffee café category, according to
Technomic. It had $274 million in sales last year, up by 3.4%.
Still, Caribou trails Starbucks as well as Dunkin' Donuts and Tim
But Caribou's expansion into grocery stores and club stores,
particularly locations outside of markets where it has a retail
presence, has helped increase awareness among consumers who might
not otherwise have access to a brick-and-mortar location. "The
brand probably comes across as a little bit larger than it actually
is ," given its other channels of distribution, said Mr. Barish. He
estimated the brand is in 9,000 stores with coffee and 15,000
locations with K-Cups for Keurig single-serve machines.
"The name's gotten out there before people have had a chance to
have [a cup of coffee] in the coffee house, which I think is the
heart and soul of the business," he said. That level of brand
awareness will serve Caribou well as it adds retail locations.
Caribou's marketing strategy, though unorthodox for most
fast-food chains, is similar to Chipotle's approach -- and
reminiscent of vintage Starbucks marketing -- in that little
measured media is actually spent. Caribou spent less than $1
million on measured media in 2011, according to Kantar Media. Mr.
Martel said that number is low, though he declined to provide
specifics. Starbucks' measured media spend dwarfs Caribou's, at
$108 million. The coffee giant, which was long known for spending
less than the average fast-food chain, has more than doubled its
spend since 2009.
Caribou is also not relying on TV -- typically the biggest
medium for quick-service restaurants -- to market itself. It
dabbled in TV, launching its first ad -- which took aim at
Starbucks -- in 2009, but Mr. Martel said the chain has shifted
away from broadcast spending in favor of the digital space,
particularly social media.