Keurig Goes For Broke

We may be approaching the point where the only person in America who doesn't own a Keurig Green Mountain (NASDAQ: GMCR  ) brewer is David Einhorn, who has famously shorted Keurig. That success brings new challenges with it, though, and Keurig has just released a new line of brewers to try to address some of the untapped market as well as some new customers. The move is risky, though, as the company has sunk huge amounts into development and promotion of its Keurig 2.0 system. If it falls flat, the company may be in for a rough year.

A brief history of Keurig's market
Keurig's single serving brewers launched into a market dominated by eight and twelve cup brewers. These carafe systems were designed to brew coffee for a group of people or for one person over the course of a day. While there was some room to fiddle with the amount of coffee and water added, they simply weren't made to brew a single cup for a single person.

Keurig took that market head on, producing a system that brewed single, patented pods of coffee. The product took off like a rocket, and even with Einhorn's blustering, the stock has soared over the last five years, up almost 600%. Now the patent has expired, single serve coffee is the new normal, and Keurig needs to find a new market to attack if it wants to keep its foot to the floor.

Everything old is new again
Enter the carafe of coffee. I know. We just ditched that thing. Turns out that Keurig thinks introducing a carafe brewer can address three groups. First, the folks who aren't willing to part with their carafe system for a single brewer. If you drink a lot of coffee or brew for a crowd, then a single serve system isn't going to cut it. Keurig estimates that 25% of the non-Keurig households are holding out simply because they need to brew multiple cups sometimes.

Second, Keurig has seen the potential in offices and other bigger, non-home outlets for its brewers. The company released the Bolt system, to address the estimated 65% of offices that still brew using carafe systems. The Bolt system is designed to address medium and large businesses, but the new Keurig carafe system can easily fit into smaller businesses.

Finally, Keurig is trying to upsell customers that already have an earlier version of the Keurig brewer. The new Keurig 2.0 system will brew only Keurig produced pods, due to a scanner inside the machine that identifies non-Keurig made pods.

The opportunity for Keurig
Looking at the three markets, I think the biggest potential for Keurig is going to come from the small business opportunity. According to the US Census, there are over 5 million small businesses in America with fewer than twenty employees. That's the perfect size for a carafe brewer, and a great place for Keurig to squeeze in.

The risk is still that it simply doesn't capture as much of the market as the company is hoping for. Keurig is spending cash on development, production, and the transition from the old style to the new style brewers. The old version will be phased out in 2015, so the newer version needs to make its mark on consumers quickly. Overall, I think the opportunity outweighs the risks, and it should be good news for Keurig over the long run.

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