- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2005

WATERBURY, Vt. — A half-dozen production lines operate 12 hours a day, cutting small filters and stuffing them into tiny cups, dropping in 2 or 3 grams of coffee and sealing them before whisking them into boxes.

The scores of little coffee containers, known around Green Mountain Coffee Roasters as K-Cups, rolling off the line every few minutes represent what the small specialty brewer hopes will be a revolution in the way Americans brew their favorite roast at home.

The diminutive cups are a self-contained coffee brewing system that can be popped into a relatively new brand of coffee maker to produce a single cup of steaming java. Gone, promoters of the systems say, are the days of a full pot of coffee slowly burning before it is thrown down the sink.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. isn’t alone. Brewers large and small, as well as appliance manufacturers, are pushing the brewing systems as an ideal gift this Christmas season for a population addicted to convenience.

“It’s an instance of quality meets convenience,” said T.J. Whalen, marketing vice president at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and other small specialty brewers are trying to capture the higher end of the market with their more expensive brews and their fancier brewing systems.

But companies from Procter & Gamble Co.’s Folgers brand to Sara Lee Corp.’s Senseo and Kraft Foods Inc.’s Maxwell House also are trying to capitalize on what some companies think is an emerging trend in the home kitchen.

The machines have taken off in offices, but a critical mass is only just beginning to be reached in which consumers might consider buying them for their homes.

Companies as diverse as Mr. Coffee, Black & Decker, Krups and Keurig now make systems that can brew single cups of coffee in as little as 30 seconds using coffee pods — pockets of grounds that look like oversized tea bags — and individual cups manufactured by the roasters and food companies.

“We know from different market research that there is a reasonable potential behind this segment,” said Lars Atorf, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble’s coffee products, including the gourmet—initely see where awareness is rising in the U.S.”

The major brands are hoping that the connection with the gourmet coffee industry can give them an entree to that lucrative part of the market.

The 2005 National Coffee Drinking Trends survey by the National Coffee Association of USA found that more than 172 million American adults consumed coffee and 15 percent — about 32 million — said they drank gourmet coffee daily. That’s grown from 9 percent six years ago.

That survey also found that nearly two-thirds of consumers were aware of single-serve brewing systems, but only 2 percent reported owning one and 14 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to buy one.

Jon Harris, vice president of Sara Lee Food & Beverage, said the machines are not intended to replace Starbucks or the corner coffee shop. He said Sara Lee’s hope is that the Senseo brand will complement the ubiquitous coffeehouses around the country.

The brewing systems have been mass-marketed for the past several years, and some are skeptical about if they will take off. Peter Greene, president of NPD Houseworld, a division of the NPD Group home-appliance marketing research firm, says they never will replace the familiar automatic drip coffee makers.

“I don’t think your everyday coffee drinker and the majority of the population are going to go in this way,” he said. He noted there are limitations to the technology and no uniform pod or cup fits all machines.

And the machines are more expensive than the typical automatic drip system.

Still, NPD Group’s market tracking has determined that slightly more than 4.5 percent of the estimated 27 million coffee-brewing appliances sold this year will be single-serve systems, up from roughly 1.5 percent of the market last year.

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