BuzzFeed’s Tasty Wants To Sell You Coffee Based On Your Favorite Emoji

By Cale Guthrie Weissman

This morning Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford, Al Roker, and the rest of the gang will all be sipping their morning coffee on the Today Show. But it won’t be just any coffee, because that’s boring. Instead it will be Tasty and Today‘s coffee—that is BuzzFeed’s Tasty, the purveyors of easily consumable hands-only how-to recipe videos.

As part of NBCUniversal’s partnership with BuzzFeed—so far the media giant has funneled over $400 million into digital media company—Tasty has been creating segments with Today. Now Tasty is opening a new revenue stream for BuzzFeed by selling products, including a customizable cookbook for kids, and, as of this morning, coffee.

In keeping with BuzzFeed’s global media domination playbook, your journey to a fine cup of brew begins with a personality quiz. Anyone can go online and answer a few simple, emoji-driven questions such as how much caffeine you like, the sort of flavor your prefer (using the lemon, apple, and banana emojis, of course), as well as which alcoholic drink you enjoy (as a way to ascertain roast preference). Then a coffee match is made and you can even customize a label for the coffee tin (may we suggest putting the word “sweatshop” on the side in honor of Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti).

Tasty partnered with Brooklyn Roasting Company, a well-known outfit that makes coffee with the veneer of hipster chic but without the high-end prices of Blue Bottle or Counter Culture. But the Tasty-branded coffee offered through Today does include a significant markup: it’s $19.99 for a twelve ounce bag, and shipping is not included. The lowest rung of Blue Bottle’s coffee-by-mail offering, by comparison, is five dollars cheaper.

Earlier this week I visited BuzzFeed’s product lab to try it out for myself. I took the quiz and then they made me a cup of algorithmically optimized coffee. As Fast Company’s resident coffee geek, I can report that the coffee is… fine. After answering the slew of questions, the computer deduced that I prefer a Peruvian Sumatra variety, darkly roasted, that has written flavor notes of “earthy” and “cocoa.” (A brief aside: in the quiz they ask what alcohol I prefer—wine, beer, mixed drink, or none—as a way to choose the best roast level. I put wine, because I like wine. This, says the computer, means I prefer darker roastier beans. But I honestly don’t think the two correlate. I would go so far to say that people who choose wine likely look for fuller-palate culinary adventures, which would lead me to believe medium roast is the best choice. At least, that’s what I prefer. Anyway, I digress.)

I am probably not the target demographic. Said Justin Seidenfeld, the head of new product development at BuzzFeed’s product lab, “the quiz is helping to show that this coffee could be for anyone who drinks coffee.” The partnership is a way to reach people in the Today Show demographic—it’s the number one morning show among adults 25-54 year old. As Seidenfeld put it (while I was sipping the coffee), NBCUniversal wanted to do a “product collaboration that worked with their audience.” That is, the person this coffee is likely going after is an avid Today Show viewer who probably isn’t as enthusiastic about the drink as I am.

Everyone I talked with described this as an experiment, but it’s likely only the beginning of these types of monetization avenues for BuzzFeed and NBC. A few months back Tasty launched customized cookbooks. This let people choose which recipes they wanted in the book before it shipped. The company sold 100,000 copies in two months.

The coffee program is a way to continue this e-commerce trajectory, and perishable foods is a lucrative (if competitive) sector. According to Ashley McCollum, Tasty’s general manager, coffee was the “obvious first place to go.” Coffee was one of the first items that Amazon sold under its own private-label brand—a 12-ounce bag of Happy Belly organic Fairtrade medium dark roast sells for just $7.95

So many people identify as “coffee lovers,” McCollum said, and they all have their own unique preference. Tasty is looking toward the business opportunities that allow for “customization,” she added. Neither McCollum nor Seidenfeld or anyone else I talked to would give targets for how many bags of beans they hoped to move into the Today Show lovers’ kitchens. “My goal is to learn from this,” said McCollum.

Whether or not the coffee sells as well as the cookbooks, we’ll probably be seeing more segments like this with more product-matching activities to boot. I await the whiskey-matching quiz.


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