Starbucks' Lucky Clover

Starbucks' (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) acquisition of The Coffee Equipment Co., which makes the extremely high-end Clover coffee brewers, may stir up some real competitive advantage.

At Starbucks' annual meeting, the coffee giant announced the acquisition of Clover and its proprietary brewing technology. Word has it that it costs about $11,000 for just one Clover brewer.

The descriptions of a cup of coffee brought to you by Clover bring to mind fine wine, not your average cup of joe. Clover's technology is supposed to bring out the myriad flavors in coffee beans, which are lost in traditional brewing methods.

An Associated Press article outlined how some independent coffee shops are outraged by Starbucks' acquisition of Clover's parent, so much so that they're threatening to get rid of their Clover machines (since their feeling is, if they need repairs, they will have to pay their archenemy, megacafe Starbucks).

It's understandable that the independent coffee shops looking for their own advantage from the Clover would be peeved, although personally, I think such devices will help all of them compete with downscale competitors like McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) and Dunkin' Donuts, not to mention closer rivals like Peet's (Nasdaq: PEET  ) and Caribou (Nasdaq: CBOU  ) .

And of course, McDonald's has already run into issues with franchisees balking at the costs of outfitting their stores for espresso drinks; it seems logical that Mickey D's won't be anywhere near something like this. Believe it or not, the AP article said some coffee shops have sold 12-ounce cups of Clover-made coffee for $20 (although increased availability should result in lower prices). None of this sounds anywhere near Golden Arches style, of course.

As a consumer, I'm totally curious to taste a Clover cup of coffee, and now that its parent is owned by Starbucks, maybe it won't be quite so hard to find as Starbucks installs more in its stores. As an investor, the more I think about the idea that fine coffee can be like fine wine, the more I think this does make sense as Starbucks seeks to differentiate itself yet again.

Starbucks brought coffee out of the doldrums, revolutionizing it as an upscale yet affordable luxury. (Remember, there was a time when lots of people thought the whole concept of paying up for gourmet coffee was silly.) I suspect moves like this one will start the coffee revolution all over again.

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