Caribou Coffee’s new vice president and head of global strategy started her career in marketing at General Mills, but is best known as a successful entrepreneur who built and sold her own company to Taylor Corp. and has since worked with other Minnesota startups including Bright Health and Local Crate.
Erin Newkirk says she was drawn to Caribou Coffee for two main reasons: the coffee—“her fuel,” as she calls it—and the mission.
“Good things happen at Caribou, so it’s no surprise that when I sat down to have coffee with [President and CEO] John Butcher, we kept digging deeper and deeper into the inherent goodness of the brand,” Newkirk says. “As I learned more about the team, the quality, and the process, it felt like our purpose was in sync. Doing good things with good people is my North Star.”
Newkirk made her mark in tech with Red Stamp, an early iPhone app that made it possible to send personalized cards and invitations digitally. With 10 million cards sent, Red Stamp was acquired in 2013 by Taylor Corp. Newkirk stayed on as CEO of Red Stamp until 2016, when she became chief marketing officer for Bright Health, the fast-growing Minneapolis-based health insurance provider, which has raised more than $1 billion since its 2015 launch. She has since worked with meal kit startup Local Crate and has advised onther startups through her consultancy, Satya.
Butcher says he was drawn to Newkirk’s entrepreneurial mindset.
“Caribou is a brand capable of disrupting our sector and improving lives,” he says. “We are particularly fortunate to find a leader like Erin that already embraces mirrored values of the Caribou brand and company culture.”
Newkirk follows another key hire made since Butcher became CEO in 2019: Scott Kennedy, a former Target exec, joined the coffee company last fall as chief financial officer. Caribou is owned by Luxembourg-based JAB Holding Co., but headquartered in Brooklyn Center, home to its executive offices and roastery.
Newkirk starts today at headquarters, but next week, she might be the one serving your cold press. Every new corporate employee spends a week behind the coffee counter and Newkirk will be stationed at a Woodbury store. It's the scariest part of her new job, she jokes.
“But really, a lot of magic happens in the store, and I want to make sure I’m contributing,” she says. “I really love Caribou’s mission all around creating day-making experiences that spark a chain reaction of good.”
Newkirk plans to continue to enrich the company’s do-good legacy and maintain a dialogue between Caribou and it’s customers. She says that’s the most important part of her job as the head of global brand strategy.
“Advertising is selling, and marketing is storytelling,” says Newkirk. “But branding is all about the exchange of value…sitting down and figuring out how to tap into what’s really important to guests, and how to marry that with the unique culture that is Caribou.”
Erin Newkirk talks tech, entrepreneurship, branding and mission on By All Means.