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Caribou Coffee Fights Breast Cancer One Cup at a Time

Exponent PR and Caribou Coffee, Jan. 1, 2012

Summary: 2012 Silver Anvil Award Winner — Marketing Consumer Products — Restaurants
(Independents, Casual Dining, Fast Food and Coffee Shops)

Caribou Coffee, the nation's second-largest premium coffeehouse, has a very personal connection to breast cancer. Amy Erickson was one of Caribou Coffee's original roastmasters, and in 1995, lost her battle with breast cancer. In her honor, Caribou Coffee created Amy's Blend, and brings it back every October to help raise money for a cure. To break through "pinkwashing," we leveraged Caribou's personal connection to breast cancer and executed a comprehensive, cause-related campaign to help find a cure. Through these efforts, Caribou Coffee was able to present Susan G. Komen® with the single largest donation in the company's history.

Campaigns that are "Marketing Consumer Products" include programs designed to launch or introduce new products, or promote existing products to a consumer audience.

Full Text: SUMMARY
A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes. Every year, more than 40,000 women lose the battle to this tragic disease. In 1995, one of those women was Amy Erickson, Caribou Coffee’s first roastmaster. For the young and quick-growing company, Amy defined the taste of Caribou Coffee, and developed the stringent standards the company uses today. Her legacy is Caribou Coffee’s growth. Today, it is the second-largest coffeehouse in the country. While Amy was still fighting this disease, Caribou Coffee created Amy’s Blend coffee to help offset her growing medical bills. Amy lost her fight with breast cancer, but Caribou Coffee continues to honor her memory by supporting funding for breast cancer research and treatment. Amy’s Blend, a seasonal roast, is sold during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, every October.

America’s 2.5 million breast cancer survivors, the largest group of cancer survivors in the U.S., harness the power of advocacy and science to save lives. Caribou Coffee was committed to that campaign and sought ways to capture the power of personal connections, thereby promoting Amy’s Blend and sustaining the hope for a cure.

Exponent PR and partner advertising agency, Colle+McVoy, were invited to build on the success of the longstanding October program. The result was a far-reaching, cause-related campaign that honored those touched by breast cancer, including one of Caribou Coffee’s own. The result was the single largest donation in the company’s history of giving.

Primary Audience Insights
Customer Intercepts: Caribou Coffee conducted surveys to understand consumer preferences and interests. Findings revealed the opportunity to promote tangible points of difference with Starbucks and other competitors, and value in providing new opportunities for current and lapsed customers to engage with the brand.
Industry Research Data: As a growth, industry research firms systematically follow category in the quick service restaurant (QSR) industry, coffeehouse trends and data. Key data indicated coffee enthusiasts — despite the economic environment — seek experiences over material purchases, preferring to connect with brands that mirror their personal values.

Media Audit

Exponent PR conducted an audit of breast cancer campaigns and discovered that the cause-related campaigns that resonated most with consumers came from companies with a personal connection to that cause. Amy’s story differentiates Caribou Coffee in a sea of "pinkwashing." Caribou Coffee had a personal connection to breast cancer. 
Key Research Insights
Although Caribou Coffee had been raising money for breast cancer awareness since 1995, Exponent PR knew it would have to break through the considerable competition for "pink products" and showcase Caribou Coffee’s personal connection, which consumers cared about.



  1. Grow donations for Susan G. Komen® through increased Amy’s Blend sales.
  2. Increase brand advocacy for the Caribou Coffee brand via the Amy’s Blend cause-related campaign.

Target Audience

  1. Influencer women: skew women who have been affected by breast cancer.
  2. Core Caribou Coffee consumers: skew women 25–54; college educated; $35,000+ HHI; urban and suburban.


  1. Expand the program to heighten campaign awareness through the power of connection by leveraging Caribou Coffee’s personal story.
  2. Increase Caribou Coffee’s share of voice among key stakeholders and consumers, and subsequently, create a groundswell of support to create Caribou Coffee’s largest donation to date.

Exponent PR  leveraged the pink associated with breast cancer awareness and combined it with Amy’s favorite flower — a tulip — to create the symbolic backbone of an events-led, cause-related campaign, Amy’s Garden. The uniquely designed, tulip-filled commemorative garden planting events in key Caribou Coffee markets united Caribou Coffee fans and consumers to honor people who have been affected by breast cancer. The names of loved ones were collected in stores and in an online virtual garden at
Strategy 1:
Expand the program to heighten campaign awareness via the power of connection by leveraging Caribou Coffee’s personal story.
Exponent developed an integrated, distinctive campaign with an immediate call to action that would create personal connections with consumers, while increasing breast cancer awareness.
Amy’s Garden Website
The website invited users to upload messages and photos to honor loved ones who had been affected by breast cancer. When they finished, a tulip appeared with the honoree’s name and message. For each virtual tulip, an actual Amy’s Hope tulip was planted in the commemorative gardens. Each person who created a tulip received a photo of the blooming commemorative gardens in spring.
In-Store Community Board
Visitors to Caribou Coffee stores were invited to write on a pink paper tulip the name of someone they knew who has been affected by breast cancer. Pink tulips were then placed on the community board, creating a powerful visual. Just like the virtual tulips, for every paper tulip “planted” in stores, an Amy’s Hope tulip was planted in a real garden.
Amy’s Garden
Larger-than-life commemorative gardens were planted at high-profile landmarks — the Mall of America in Minneapolis, and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Each garden incorporated the Susan G. Komen® ribbon into the design. Event participants planted more than 9,000 square feet of garden with 60,000 Amy’s Hope tulips. Each garden features a plaque that reads, "Amy Erickson was a beloved Caribou Coffee roastmaster who valiantly fought breast cancer. To honor her passion for coffee, life and tulips, we created Amy’s Garden. Each tulip in this garden is dedicated to someone who fought the battle, continues to fight or is celebrating survivorship." In May 2011, the gardens overflowed with blooming pink tulips. Dedication ceremonies involved Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure®, community leaders and Caribou Coffee CEO Mike Tattersfield.
Strategy 2:
Increase Caribou Coffee’s share of voice among key stakeholders and consumers, and subsequently, create a groundswell of support to create the largest company donation to date.
Exponent PR developed an aggressive consumer and trade media outreach effort complemented by social media engagement to build campaign awareness for Amy’s Garden and Amy’s Blend.
Media Relations
Leveraging Amy’s story and Caribou Coffee’s personal connection to breast cancer, Exponent PR launched a media relations initiative targeting national trade and key influencer media to continue the buzz. To pique curiosity, Exponent PR provided VIP media and key influencers with a garden-planting box filled with tulips and pink gardening gloves.
Social Media Engagement
Exponent PR developed an aggressive social media engagement plan to expand awareness and enthusiasm for the Amy’s Garden campaign.
Caribou fans on Facebook were also invited to submit a dedication. Key campaign messages, event photos and exclusive announcements were shared with Caribou Coffee’s 277,000 Facebook fans to extend the campaign momentum. Personal engagement with fans increased campaign enthusiasm.
Event updates and photos were also sent to Caribou Coffee’s 25,000 Twitter followers. Connecting with Caribou Coffee’s eager fans, Exponent PR was able to engage in real-time conversations, resulting in a higher level of consumer interaction.
Email Blasts
Event updates and photos were shared with Caribou Coffee’s 500,000 contacts to complement the social media outreach.

Caribou Coffee and Exponent PR planned to expand the scope of Amy’s Blend, incorporating an out-of-the-box event idea while harnessing the power of personal connections by sharing Amy’s story:

  1. Grow donations for Susan G. Komen® through increased Amy’s Blend sales. Despite a lackluster economy, Amy’s Blend achieved record sales, far exceeding sales projections and the previous year’s record (actual sales data is considered confidential). Amy’s Blend sales also helped propel Caribou Coffee to a fourth-quarter 19 percent revenue increase from the previous year.
  2. Increase brand advocacy for the Caribou Coffee brand via the Amy’s Blend cause-related campaign. More than 71,000 visitors created an online or community board tulip, which was more than 20 percent above the original goal. The Amy’s Garden online component produced a 24 percent increase compared to the previous year’s web traffic. Media outlets in key markets took immediate interest in the inspiring tributes. Print, online and broadcast placements contained product information as well as the campaign information, and drove consumers to the website call-to-action. Nearly 40 million impressions have been secured.

Consumer interaction via social media extended the Amy’s Blend campaign message with overwhelmingly positive responses. Caribou Coffee's Facebook fan page increased by 56,000 members, also increasing its engagement rating score. The increased engagement and positive goal helped Caribou Coffee achieve the top ranking in Zocalo Group’s 2012 index as the most recommended coffeehouse via consumer engagement — beating Starbucks and other major coffeehouses.
Amy’s National Garden of Hope built on the remarkable groundswell of success from the first two commemorative tulip gardens. Amy’s National Garden of Hope in Washington, D.C., was planted in October 2011, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This garden — the largest and most elaborate — incorporates the Susan G. Komen® symbolic ribbon into the overall design. The design was inspired by acclaimed artist Andrew Banneker, whose mother struggled with breast cancer. A 6,000 square-foot-garden was planted with 40,000 Amy’s Hope tulips set to bloom in the spring of 2012.
Caribou Coffee exceeded the campaign donation goal to Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® — an 11 percent increase from the previous year, and the single largest company donation in the company's history.

Public Relations Society of America © 2012