Is Single Serve Coffee on the Way Out?

No less authority than The Washington Post wonders if America’s favorite coffee trend is coming to an end. They are referring to the single serve coffee pods pioneered by Keurig which still dominates the markets for coffee pods (K-cups) and coffee pod machines.

Several years ago, coffee pods seemed invincible. Sales of the single-serve cups were skyrocketing, more than tripling in the United States between 2011 and 2013. Sales of coffee pod machines were soaring, too, growing from 1.8 million units to 11.6 million between 2008 and 2013, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor.

Today, however, things aren’t looking quite so rosy for coffee in its most convenient form.

On Monday, Keurig, which dominates the U.S. market for both coffee pods and coffee pod machines, announced that it sold 7 percent fewer machines during the holidays than it had the year before, the sixth straight quarter in which unit sales fell. The news was particularly disappointing given how crucial the holiday season is for the company.

Single serve coffee grew because it is an efficient way to make coffee and it is convenient. This was an especially attractive feature during the depths of the Great Recession. However, as the economy recovers Americans are happy to buy coffee from the drive through at the coffee shop. But another aspect of this situation is that the vast majority of coffee pods are not recyclable and end up in the land fill.

Organic Coffee in a K-Cup?

Last year we questioned if organic coffee in a K-cup made sense.

Billions of K cups go into landfills each year. If part of the reason you drink organic coffee is that you want to protect the environment then even organic coffee in a Keurig K cup is a problem. But there was a solution. Keurig also made refillable K cups under the brand, My K Cup. You could also refill these with any coffee of your choice, which would commonly be cheaper than the coffee from Keurig. Unfortunately that changed.

Some years back, thousands of Keurig single-serve machine fans found a cheaper alternative, however -refillable, non-disposable K-cups, little plastic coffee grounds holders, which the company graciously sold under the brand of “My K-Cup.”

Not only was it cheaper, but the coffee drinker had more choice, as “My K-Cup” could be filled with any brand of coffee off the shelf.

But in August 2014, when Keurig introduced its “2.0” line of coffeemakers, it stopped making “My K-Cup” for it and made the machine incompatible with any K-cups already in existence, as well as with any unlicensed disposable K-cups made by other companies.

So Keurig is back to producing little plastic cups to fill up landfills and is enticing environmentally minded coffee drinkers by selling expensive organic coffee in those cups.

If there are more environmentally friendly ways to make and serve coffee it appears that environmentally minded coffee drinkers will find them, to the detriment of single serve coffee. Single serve coffee will continue because in places like hotel rooms and for single individuals on the go it is an efficient way to have a cup of coffee but for anyone who serves coffee to more than one person there are more environmentally friendly ways to make coffee and the single serve coffee maker will get moved to storage.


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