BY CRAIG COLEY
For 25 years, Frank Kerker was a start-up specialist in the beverage industry. With a marketing degree from Indiana University, he helped launch Snapple, SoBe, Muscle Milk, and Fuze. Now Kerker has rolled out his own beverage—Sober Joe Coffee.
Profits from Sober Joe go to a cause close to Kerker’s heart—recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. The 59-year-old is in recovery himself. He’s been sober since 2005.
Coffee is a staple in the recovery community, and Kerker says the idea for Sober Joe had been percolating for years. He jokes that he replaced the wine stains on his shirts with coffee stains, so it struck him as a natural fit.
Local sales benefit Courage to Change Sober Living House, a Bloomington-based nonprofit organization that provides structured living environments to addicts and alcoholics in recovery. A national recovery organization, Compassion4Addiction, receives profits from internet sales.
“I’ve always been enamored of companies like Ben & Jerry’s. It’s capitalism meets philanthropy.” says Kerker, a Kokomo, Indiana, native who has lived in Bloomington for nine years.
In order to move beyond merely supporting a charity, however, Kerker says customers have to truly enjoy Sober Joe. “One of the challenges with this whole project has been to shift people’s thinking from, ‘I’ll buy a bag to help you out,’ like they would buy Girl Scout cookies, to thinking of it as a product that they would buy every day,” he says. “We’re hoping that once people try the product, they’ll come back and buy it again.”
Kerker did his research before launching Sober Joe in September 2017. He says he originally hoped to sell an organic, fair-trade coffee but discovered that because of the higher cost he would have to charge more than he wanted. Ultimately, he partnered with Fort Wayne-based Cadillac Coffee Co., which services restaurants and corporate cafeterias. Cadillac has a large catalog of coffees, and from there Kerker created Dark Before Dawn Recovery Blend.
Kerker now has a second coffee—Dawn’s Surly Light On-Awakening Blend—and he still hopes to add a free-trade, organic coffee to the line. Sober Joe is sold at Lucky’s Market and Bloomingfoods. Kirker says he would like to get Sober Joe on the shelves of Kroger supermarkets and boost national sales through social media marketing and franchising.
“The encouraging thing is, everywhere we put it, this stuff is consistently selling,” Kerker says.
To learn more, visit soberjoe.com.