Behind the holiday cup: Sharing sparks from us to you


Nothing says “The holiday season is here” like the debut of Caribou Coffee®’s seasonal cups and beverages. Caribou fans far and wide wait all year to see the new designs, and clutching a hot or cold cup emblazoned with holiday motifs like snowflakes instantly puts guests in the holiday spirit.

The holiday cup design begins way, way before the cups themselves make their triumphant return to your local coffeehouse. We’re strategizing the next year’s design while you’re taking down your décor!
The 2023 design draws inspiration from the dynamic energy of the season, shaped by our team and guests. It reflects a deep understanding of their needs, especially during this potentially stressful time of the year, visually aligning with our purpose to create day-making experiences that spark a chain reaction of good. “Sparks from us to you was born out of the idea of pausing the chaos. The holiday season is so focused on gift giving, yet we wanted to take a moment to celebrate and shine a light on our team and guests and all they do for others throughout the year,” explains Creative Director Leah Palmquist.

caribou coffee holiday cups

Designing the visual language for holiday cheer

The team began thinking of what moments of respite feel like during the holiday season: a minute of quiet to center yourself amidst the chaos or an extra boost of caffeine to make it through a holiday retail shift. “We want to provide the spark our teams and guests need to keep going,” Leah says. “You’ll see these sparks show up literally in the visuals on the cup and messaging on the sleeves with branded affirmations to help bring these feel-good moments to life.”

Once the concept was finalized, the team got to work on sketching out the manifestations of sparks, then translated them digitally. “Colors, patterns and iconography were all interchanged until the perfect balance was achieved,” Leah shares, adding that all in all, the team created about 100 different design variations before arriving at the final four. A few hidden surprises were also included in each design; can you spot the leaping ‘Bou hiding in each cup design?

Inclusive and harmonious

Creating a cohesive collection of cups — not to mention one as high-profile and beloved as the holiday cups — takes a lot of teamwork and collaboration, plus a trained designer’s eye. “While it’s important to take a bird’s eye view of the collection, it’s equally as important to consider the little details that in my opinion aren’t all that little!” says Leah. “Things like how the colors will interact with one another both aesthetically and technically in addition to ensuring the main logo is the same size and is hitting in the same spot on all cups, all while interacting naturally with the design. It takes a lot of tweaking of the original design to get it just right.”

Inclusivity, both culturally and geographically, is also of utmost importance when designing the cups. “While winter imagery and themes connect with our guests in snowy climates, they don’t necessarily resonate as well with our stores in warmer climates,” explains Leah. “Similarly, while Christmas is still the holiday most predominantly featured in many stores, media, and marketing during this time of the year, that is not necessarily reflective of the cultural and religious makeup of the actual communities we live in and serve.” Leah and her team developed a visual language to celebrate universal themes of the season, including connection and kindness.

woman smiling with caribou coffee

Blending tradition with modernity

The holiday cups have evolved quite a bit over the past 30 years, but some constants remain, most notably our signature, unmistakable Cariblue color. “Red is perhaps the most easily recognized holiday color and as such functions as an important signal of the season. It has the added benefit of being a really nice complement to the blue, providing an element of warmth that might otherwise be lacking,” Leah explains of the approach to balancing more traditional holiday signifiers with our brand identity. Red is typically used in small amounts, like accents and cup sleeves. The 2023 cup also includes a surprising shade: pink! “It softens and balances the red in an unexpected way, creating this lovely balance of tradition and modernity.”

The “Sparks from us to you” theme goes beyond the cute cups this year. “We’ve extended the theme and good cheer beyond the cup in other brand moments you might see in store or online,” Leah shares. It’s another way to keep the warm fuzzies alive amidst the mad holiday dash.

Keep an eye out for these spark moments and celebrate the season with us by creating your own chain reaction of good.