Let me confess to an old-fashioned bias: Just as I believe you should be able to put any brand of gasoline in your car, or thread any belt through your pants, I also believe you should be able to put any kind of coffee into your coffee maker.
Starting this fall, that won’t be possible if you buy a countertop coffee maker made by Keurig, the Massachusetts-based division of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. In presentations to investors, the company’s CEO, Brian P. Kelley, has been touting a feature of the forthcoming “Keurig 2.0” brewing systems that will shut out anything other than Keurig-produced K-Cup coffee pods.
Picked up a few boxes of discount pods at Costco? You may be driving the kids to school with a splitting headache.
“We are a technology company in the beverage business,” Kelley told the audience at a conference in Florida last month. And Keurig is following a path popular with technology companies: using software as a way to lock customers into a particular set of high-margin products. Microsoft, Apple, and the printer-maker Lexmark have all waged legal battles to control their “ecosystems,” which in Lexmark's case has meant trying to keep refurbished ink cartridges out of their printers.
It’s rare to see a Massachusetts product attain the kind of dominant market position that Keurig has. And now we’re going to watch as Keurig, which has been the growth engine of Vermont-based Green Mountain, takes the concept of customer lock-in to the kitchen counter. Already, a third-party maker of coffee pods has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Green Mountain.
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