One-cup brewers add flexibility amid slowing market growth

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Keurig Green Mountain Keurig Green Mountain has led the way in one-cup coffee makers, and introduced a new plastic-bodied Mini-Plus Brewer this year, but is seeing increased competition.

With flattening market growth, the makers of portioned coffee brewing systems are boosting their appeal by offering added flexibility and customization to consumers.

The simplicity of one-cup brewers — push a button, get a cup of coffee — has long been a major selling point. But as more brewers enter the category, manufacturers and looking at ways to add flexibility while maintaining the systems’ speed and ease.

Keurig Green Mountain, a leader in the category, was the first to introduce size options to its technology, said Seth Golden of Capital Ladders Advisory Group. Instead of brewing a single mug of coffee or tea, consumers had the option of filling a larger travel mug to take on-the-go. The flexibility proved popular with consumers, kicking off the addition of larger-size brewing options to many machines.

“Other companies are starting to latch on to the idea that there needs to be more choice and more customization,” said Golden, who follows the coffee industry.

Though Golden sees market growth slowing for the category, the technology isn’t going away. Twelve percent of households in America now own a single-serve brewer, according to the National Coffee Association's 2013 National Coffee Drinking Trends report. New single-serve brewers of coffee and tea could be found around every corner of the International Home + Housewares Show, March 15-18 in Chicago.

Keurig showcased its line of Mini Plus brewers, which allows consumers to choose between three brew sizes — six, eight or 12 ounces — and comes in a variety of colorful finishes designed to appeal to consumers’ individual styles. The company’s Keurig 2.0 brewer, slated to hit stores this fall, is able to brew a four-cup carafe in addition to a single cup, an option also offered by Hamilton Beach’s FlexBrew, unveiled last year.

“Current Keurig brewer owners and non-owners alike told us the brewer functionality they wanted most was the ability to brew both the single serving and a pot of coffee from one system with Keurig's speed, convenience and brand choice,” Brian Kelley, Keurig’s president and CEO, said in a February conference call with investors.

A common consumer complaint with brewers that use single-serving coffee capsules is mediocre taste. Remington, the maker of iCoffee, is entering the portioned coffee market with the iCup, designed to tackle that challenge. The ABS brewer steams and stirs coffee grounds in single-serve capsules to extract what the company says is a smoother, less acidic cup of coffee.

Cafejo The polypropylene and Tritan copolyester Cafejo is a plastic-bodied French press style of coffee maker that is compatible with "K-Cups."

Also looking to improve the taste experience is Cafejo, which has introduced a plastic French press brewer that is compatible with K-cups. The press is made with polypropylene and Tritan copolyester from Eastman Chemical Company.

“The neat thing about the plastics that we use on it is that they’re dishwasher safe, they don’t stain, they’re easy to use, they don’t break, so these are really some of the advantages of the quality of materials we’re using in this simple product,” said Patrick Rolfes, president and CEO.

Though the single-serve coffee market is still growing, the category is approaching a natural limit, Golden said.

“Single-serve coffee is more expensive than bag coffee. That’s just the bottom line. If you’re doing single serve you are increasing the cost per serving,” he said. “So that’s always been an impediment to the category, and it’s always kind of capped how much market share single-serve can actually achieve.”

Perhaps for this reason, Keurig is expanding beyond the coffee and tea category to cold beverages. The forthcoming Keurig Cold will challenge SodaStream in the home carbonation category. Though a partnership with Coca Cola Co., the Keurig Cold will provide single-serving sodas and other cold beverages at the touch of a button.

“It seems very far-reaching for Keurig to do this. And I think it only magnifies that there’s only so much market share left for them in the hot platform, that they’re reaching this far into a cold platform,” Golden said.