Don’t Look Now, but Brim Is Back, Just Not as the Decaf Coffee It Was in the 1970s

Brand returns as a luxe coffee maker for the 21st century

Headshot of Robert Klara

If you’re a coffee drinker of a certain age, chances are you remember a long-running series of TV spots for Brim. The settings varied, but the plot was always the same: An all-American, coffee-loving consumer ruefully informs his cohort that while he’d love a big cup of Joe, he can only take half a cup because caffeine makes him jittery. Then, upon learning the joyful news that Brim’s beans were decaffeinated, our hero would proclaim: “Then fill it to the rim—with Brim!”

The wonder of these treacly commercials was that they ran as long as they did—specifically, until the early 1990s, shortly after Brim’s parent General Foods merged with Kraft, changed its strategy and led Brim behind the barn.

Now comes another wonder: After two decades, Brim is back.

Well, it’s sort of back. A company called Sensio has reintroduced Brim to the market, not as coffee, but as a collection of coffee makers. The move is ambitious, not only because the legacy brand is returning as a product that’s only tangentially related to its former self, but also because it’s returning in a considerably higher-end category. Brim’s cans of decaf could be had virtually for pocket change back in the 1970s. By contrast, Brim’s new Smart Valve Cold Brew Coffee Maker retails for $49.99, and its 8-Cup Pour Over Coffee Maker comes in at $179.99. Sensio will sell the line on Amazon and at Williams-Sonoma.

Sensio CEO Shae Hong said in a statement that he wanted to take a “storied brand” and “propel it into the third-wave coffee movement.” (“Third-wave” is industry parlance akin to “artisanal” and its sister modifier, “hand-crafted.”) The point being that Brim is, in Hong’s view, a brand that “has stood for trust, taste and value.”

That’s fair, though it’s worth pointing out that yesteryear’s decaf brands (most memorably Kraft’s Sanka) were hardly regarded as culinary paragons. In 1986, Saturday Night Live aired a send-up of Brim that featured an exhausted waitress (played by Nora Dunn) and an equally comatose customer (Randy Quaid) trying to stay awake with Brim but only managing to spill coffee on themselves.

That said, what Brim does have going for it is enduring name recognition, one that General Foods built between 1961 and 1995 with millions of advertising dollars. And that’s something Sensio can take advantage of without spending a dime. Prior to Sensio purchasing its name, Brim had been held by a Chicago-based IP reseller called River West Brands. In 2008, River West claimed Brim, which had already been off store shelves for nearly 15 years by that time, still boasted a 92 percent brand name recall rate.

Moreover, the more time that passes after a brand disappears from stores, the more flexibility its next owner enjoys in terms of recasting that brand. Sensio first reintroduced Brim in 2014 as mid-market drip coffee maker and now, four years later, it’s nudged it up to artisanal status. Brim’s new website features “experience” videos starring brand ambassador Blair Smith (a U.S. Brewers Cup finalist), who walks viewers through the finer points of making cold-brewed coffee. Everything in the frame, from the demonstration kitchen to Smith’s tattoo-reinforced millennial authority, gently suggests a luxury product, and it’s a far cry indeed from the old days of flaky TV actors scooping freeze-dried Brim out of a jar with a brown plastic lid.

Speaking with Adweek, Hong explained that “although its origins were budget, Brim was a leading player in the first wave of coffee—convenient, accessible and available to the masses.”

“As we moved past the Starbucks era … into the third wave, consumers are willing to trade convenience for experience,” he said. “We’re honing in on consumers’ desire to create an at-home version of the experience they’ve come to enjoy at their favorite cafes by designing a line of products to produce a quality, fresh cup of coffee.”

Only time and the marketplace will tell if Sensio succeeds, but according to Chris Lowery, CEO and chief strategist at Chase Design Group, similar tactics have worked before.

“Resurrecting brands that have fallen out of favor by reframing the proposition has worked for products like Pabst Blue Ribbon and others,” he said. “If you can reposition the brand for a new generation of consumers, its heritage can be a reinforcement of legitimacy even if the past was questionable or even different than today’s positioning. Brim was launched as a decaf coffee but could easily be framed for a new coffee consumer as caffeine-laden since the history will not be clear to today’s consumer.”

At least, not unless they dig up those old commercials.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.