A coffee company that served up a dash of politics with its dark roast is now putting some distance between itself and the customers it used to make millions, according to a published report.
A feature in The New York Times Magazine paints top executives of the Black Rifle Coffee Company as saying that some elements of America’s conservative political spectrum are not anyone with whom the company wants to be affiliated.
“You can’t let sections of your customers hijack your brand and say, ‘This is who you are,’” said Mat Best the company’s executive vice president. “It’s like, no, no, we define that.”
Company CEO Evan Hafer said that last year, when the company said it was not an active supporter of Kyle Rittenhouse, who has been charged with murder over the shooting of rioters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year, it was a watershed moment because it separated the company from customers he was happy to be rid of.
Rittenhouse had worn a shirt with the company’s name upon it in pictures that were widely distributed.
“It’s such a repugnant group of people,” Hafer said. “It’s like the worst of American society, and I got to flush the toilet of some of those people that kind of hijacked portions of the brand.”
“It’s such a repugnant group of people.”
The executives behind @blckriflecoffee, a coffee and lifestyle brand hugely popular with conservatives, has some choice words to describe part of its customer base. https://t.co/BxTpq0kfQY pic.twitter.com/mbdrBSpwGs
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) July 16, 2021
Hafer, speaking of elements of his far-right customer base, said racism “really pisses me off.”
“I hate racist, Proud Boy-ish people. Like, I’ll pay them to leave my customer base. I would gladly chop all of those people out of my [expletive] customer database and pay them to get the [expletive] out,” he said.
Best noted that Black Rifle drew far more attention than it wanted or needed when a man wanted in connection with the Capitol incursion wore some of its clothing, which was used in the identifying description of suspect Eric Munschel, known as the “zip-tie guy.”
“Every brand, name the brand, it was probably there: Walmart jeans, Nike shoes,” he said. “And then it’s like one patch from our company. There’s certain terrorist organizations that wear American brands when they go behead Americans. Do you think they want to be a part of that? And I’m not drawing a parallel between the two. I’m just simply saying there are things in business, when you grow, that are completely outside your control,” he said
“I would never want my brand to be represented in that way, shape or form,” Hafer said, “because that’s not me.”
The company “is much bigger,” than “a hat in the [expletive] Capitol,” Hafer said.
Hafer said building a company that caters to conservatives to whom politics is vitally important represents a challenge.
“How do you build a cool, kind of irreverent, pro-Second Amendment, pro-America brand in the MAGA era without doubling down on the MAGA movement and also not being called a [expletive] RINO by the MAGA guys?” he said.
I wrote a story about Black Rifle Coffee and the selling of the culture wars. Is it possible for Black Rifle to become the Starbucks of Red America without also turning into the “tactical caffeine delivery system” of the far right? https://t.co/m43tA4D2Qk
— Jason Zengerle (@zengerle) July 14, 2021
The company parlayed its alignment with former President Donald Trump and the Make America Great Again movement into massive growth. In 2015, it took in $1 million. By 2019, that was $82 million and last year sales hit $163 million.
One commentator said that’s a sign of the times.
“There’s an imperfect line between what’s political and what’s cultural these days,” says Steve Callander, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “Companies definitely want to tap into cultural trends, because that’s how you connect with your customers.”
Tom Davin, Black Rifle’s co-chief executive, said that despite distancing itself form some elements of the right, the company has a clear vision of its base.
— Ruben Michaels🎸🎶🎤🎹… (@MicaelsRuben) July 17, 2021
“Our customer is driving a tricked-out Ford F-150. It’s blue-collar, above-average income, some college-educated, some self-made-type people. It’s people who shop at Walmart rather than Target,” he said.