Green Mountain K-Cup or Starbucks Via?

The taste test results are in -- and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' (Nasdaq: GMCR  ) K-Cup has it all over Starbucks' (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) Via packets of instant coffee.

OK, so maybe the sample size was just six members of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers and Motley Fool Stock Advisor analyst teams. Statisticians aren't going to sign off on the margin of error here.

The competitive slurps were the culmination of weeks of bantering between the two stock newsletters, in a "coffee clash" of active recommendations.

The java gauntlet was thrown down a month ago. Starbucks was singled out to Stock Advisor subscribers four years ago, while Green Mountain has gone on to triple since I recommended it to my fellow Rule Breakers last year.

Pitting the two brew masters in a cage match of taste was a logical move, given the competitive nature of the two analyst teams.

Despite the novelty and friendly jockeying, taste tests do matter. A product can't succeed if it's not appreciated by the masses -- even if we had to settle on the definition "mainstream acceptance" by going with just a half-dozen taste buds.

The real challenge was deciding how to represent Starbucks. Should we waltz in to the local Starbucks and ask the barista for a tray of Pike Place Roast? It didn't seem right. In-store brews would be a better match for Peet's (Nasdaq: PEET  ) , Caribou (Nasdaq: CBOU  ) , or perhaps even McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) given the caffeinated jolt recently provided by its McCafe line of premium beverages.

Starbucks made this easy by introducing its Via packets last summer. Claiming to revolutionize instant coffee, Starbucks set its produce apart from other instant products that "taste flat" and are "lifeless."

Via, according to Starbucks, is "full-bodied and flavorful, just like the Starbucks coffee you know and love."

Perfect!

Via offers a simple fix, without the granular aftertaste of other instant coffees. Adding hot water and stirring is all it takes to concoct a warm cup of liquid fuel.

Green Mountain's K-Cup isn't as portable, since it requires the small Keurig brewers to crank out one steaming cup of java at a time. However, K-Cups are cheaper than Via packets, and they both emphasize home-brewed convenience without having to line up at your favorite coffee shop.

After weeks of showboating and discussion board jockeying, David and Tom Gardner joined four newsletter team members in a blind taste test of Via and Keurig. The Gardner brothers chose Starbucks, but the four remaining analysts -- two from each newsletter -- preferred the taste of the K-Cup serving.

Subscribers didn't have a passive experience here. They nominated K-Cup flavors for the contest and active participants were up for subscription extensions and even a Keurig brewer -- you know, to play along at home.

This doesn't make Starbucks a loser, necessarily. Earnings are growing nicely lately, and same-store sales popped 9% in its latest quarter -- a welcome combination of improving foot traffic from java junkies that are spending more per visit.

Green Mountain is also growing briskly, suggesting that Via's successful freshman year of sales -- $100 million in sales and counting -- isn't getting in the way of its own gains.

In short, they can both be winners -- but why are my friendly Stock Advisor rivals asking for a rematch?

Either way, let's grant you the final word.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Starbucks is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services, free for 30 days. They'll wake you up!

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz can actually walk to three Starbucks from his home but he's still not much of a coffee sipper. He's had a Keurig brewer in his home since Christmas of 2007. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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