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Triathletes achieve a consistent coffee

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Written by: David Clensy | Posted 29 November 2016 10:27

Triathletes achieve a consistent coffee

From the moment you meet her, it’s clear that Helena Hills is an inexhaustible supply of energy. She gives the appearance of being someone who strides through life wide-eyed and with a spring in her step.

Given that she’s spent the past couple of years focusing all her attention on coffee, perhaps it’s no wonder the 29-year-old is such a burst of activity.

But it was a concern over dips in her energy levels that led to the creation of the start-up company that, together with her husband Simon, Helena has quickly built into a unique offering within a highly competitive market.

“Simon and I were training for a triathlon,” Helena recalls. “And we would always start the day with a cup of coffee.

“I started to find I was incredibly susceptible to caffeine, some days I’d be wired after a cup and other days it wouldn’t seem to lift me at all.

“Simon and I got talking about it, and he suggested it might not be me, but actually the coffee that’s different each day. So I decided to do a bit of research into it, and was really shocked to discover just how much of variation there is in caffeine levels between different kinds of coffee – and often between different batches of the same brand of coffee.

“One day your cup of coffee might contain 20 milligrams of caffeine, but the next it could contain 200 milligrams – 400 milligrams at some of the big coffee house chains.

“I thought, no wonder it’s having a dramatically different effect on me – it’s not my body acting differently, it’s the coffee itself.”

Which is when the couple had their brainwave – would it be possible to create a coffee with a reliably consistent caffeine level aimed at the sporting market?

“When you’re drinking a cup of coffee as part of your training, you need to know how it’s going to affect your performance, and at a time when athletes are increasingly turning away from the more synthetic energy drinks, we realised that if we could work out a way to do it, there would definitely be a market for it.”

It was a world away from Simon’s civil engineering background and Helena’s software sales experience, but the pair were keen to create a business that would allow them to work together, and with their shared passion for sports, it seemed like the ideal opportunity for the triathlete couple.

“We spent a while calling around coffee producers to see what they thought – they all said it’s a great idea, but it can’t be done,” Helena says.

“I’d lived in South America for a while, so I decided to call some coffee producers in Colombia. Their mentality there is if you suggest something that sounds impossible, they will always want to find a way to make it possible, so we got working with a great team out there who were keen to crack it.”

After months of experimentation, the team did exactly that – they worked out a process which would stabilise the caffeine levels in the coffee to a regular 95 milligrams.

Helena is tight-lipped about the details, for fear of other coffee companies stealing their thunder, but simply says it “has something to do with water and pressure”.

The couple already knew there was strong market for their product.

“As soon as we had the initial idea we set up a very simple website explaining what the coffee would be, and put a link for people to pre-order. We set aside £20 worth of Facebook advertising, and were overwhelmed by the result.

“Almost immediately we had hundreds of people signing up to the idea – so much so that we emailed them all and reimbursed their money, explaining we were still in the every early stage of development, but we would get back to them. Which is exactly what we did once we had a product to sell – 95 per cent of them are still regular customers today.”

Helena and Simon pushed their new product at grassroots level – visiting 10k runs and triathlons to promote the coffee with runners and amateur athletes.

They quickly developed a dedicated community of regular customers, getting shelf space in the likes of Holland and Barrett and bike store Wiggle, and have already sold more than 10,000 units within just 18 months.

Helena is keen to rally the following on social media around the #teamtruestart hashtag, with the pair still regularly running and cycling alongside many of their customers in their free time.

They are already thinking big for the future, with a spin-off TrueStart energy bar to be launched in January and a tetra-pak ready-to-drink product being launched next autumn.

Another coup for the young firm is being named as the official coffee of the Tour of Britain.

“It’s all very exciting,” Helena says. “We have lots in the pipeline.”

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