One Cup At A Time

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One Cup At A Time

If specialty brewers large and small, as well as appliance manufacturers have their way, a revolution in the way Americans brew their favorite coffee at home is near.

Gone are the days of a full pot of coffee slowly burning before it's thrown down the sink. In its place now is a self-contained coffee brewing system that can be popped into a relatively new brand of coffeemaker to produce a single cup of steaming java, the Associated Press reports.

"It's an instance of quality meets convenience," said T.J. Whalen, marketing vice president at Green Mountain Coffee. Green Mountain and other small specialty brewers are trying to capture the higher end of the market with more expensive brews and fancier brewing systems, while companies like Procter & Gamble Co.'s Folgers brand, Sara Lee Corp.'s Senseo and Kraft Foods Inc.'s Maxwell House also are trying to capitalize on the emerging trend in the home kitchen.

The machines have taken off in offices, but a critical mass is only beginning to be reached where consumers might consider buying them for their homes, the AP reports. 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 oversize tea bags -- and individual cups manufactured by the roasters and food companies.

"We know from different market research there is a reasonable potential behind this segment," said Lars Atorf, spokesman for Procter & Gamble's coffee products. "We can definitely see where awareness is rising in the U.S." Major brands hope 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 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.

The survey also found 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.

The brewing systems have only been mass-marketed for the past couple of years, and there are skeptics about whether they'll take off. Peter Greene, president of NPD Houseworld, a division of the NPD Group marketing research company, believes they'll never replace the familiar automatic drip coffeemakers.

"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. A basic Senseo brewing machine is being sold online for $69.99. The higher-end Keurig machine starts at $99.95 and ranges up to $279.95 for a version marketed for office use. The coffee that goes into them isn't cheap, either. A box of 24 of Green Mountain's K-Cups is available online for $13.95, while a 12-ounce bag of beans goes for $8.19.

Still, NPD Group's market tracking has determined a little better 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. "It all depends on how you define success," Greene said. "I'd say these are going to be a success, but only 5 percent of the market."