Green Mountain Coffee Rackets

( – promoted by Sue Prent)

I’ve held a small bit of Green Mt Coffee Roasters stock for about 10 years, purchased because it was a local startup that bubbled up and because it had socially conscious policies for employees and coffee growers.   It may still be a good deal for coffee growers and employees, but the company has morphed into an unrecognizable corporate entity that I find repugnant.

GMCR should no longer be thought of as a coffee company (as is reflected in its new name “Keurig Green Mountain Inc.”)  Rather it is a plastic-and-profit-delivery-pipeline. The coffee is okay but lift the curtain on that green mountain image and you’ll find the very Wolf of Wall Street presiding with his pack of banking/industry execs who have come on board as directors.  [Hinda-what the hell happened?]

I attended the GMCR stockholders’ meeting in Burlington this week out of curiosity.  The contrast from 8 years ago was staggering.  At that time their green-guy told me they were near to solving their recycling problem (see below).  In the meantime, the new regime has arrived.  Meet the new boss, Brian Kelley, golden boy newly from Coca-Cola and Jack Welch’s General Electric.  This guy drips humble and nice until he begins his presentation at which time his voice changes and he seemingly salivates describing the brave new (stranglehold) world of beverage delivery.  His pitch would have been hysterically funny as farce had it not been dead serious.

What’s the big deal?   I had a glimmer of  hope that they might’ve made progress on their plastic K-cup-as-trash problem.  K-Cups, those small and growing bigger plastic cups which are cranked out at over 6 billion/year and which hopefully (according to CEO Kelley’s view) would be growing exponentially thereafter.   They are unrecyclable.  One sweet old lady from NH piped up with “well we pull out the contents and recycle OURS, so you CAN do it!”  She did pull contents out of her K-cups and put them in her “recycling bin” but her husband admitted to me that they can’t actually be recycled, among other reasons because they are unworkable at materials recycling facilities.  Rather they go to landfills and assuredly find their way to dead seabird bellies and Pacific Ocean plastic gyres.  Some office-sized pods are incinerated, those in their “Grounds to Grow On” scheme where  you can pay $50 to buy a carton for your office and then ship it to Findlay Ohio, where it’s emptied of coffee (composted) and on to the incinerator.  

The at-or-near-cost price of Keurig machines is the vehicle used to get you hooked on the pods, which IS GMCR’s product; Keurig comprises 90% of their business now and is growing.  A pound of GMCR goes for around $12 in a bag, but in pod form that pound of coffee might cost you around $50. Today’s enlightened citizen can flip a K-cup of his or her choice into the shiny machine, press a button and poof, coffee.  Imagine if they should succeed in invading Italy…

50 K-Cups go to the landfill for every pound of ground coffee consumed!  Are ya listening Moretown and  Coventry?

There’s more.  Near the end of the presentation Mr. Kelly mentioned that GMCR’s coming “2.0” model Keurig will be able to harvest your habits.  NSA-like, they will collect information on what you brew, when you brew it, what time of day, and more.  When asked to elaborate he got a little hesitant and said something about your cell phone lying on the kitchen counter…  

Coffee will become less important in the future;  Keurigs already make tea, cocoa, and hot cider pods but will soon be delivering Campbell’s soup, Coca Cola and whatever other beverage – cold or hot – you desire.   All heated or cooled in plastic.

Some of you might be sensible enough to have one of those re-fillable filter-thingies that you can fill with your own coffee and use in your Keurig.  My advice to you is to hang onto these models, because going forward  (due to DRM protocols and RFID technology) it appears that you will not be allowed you to use them or any pod other than GMCR’s (oops–Keurig Green Mountain Inc’s). In mid-February a company known as Treehouse Foods brought a lawsuit against GMCR for this and other abuses of law, monopoly, etc.  GMCR  Keurig Green Mountain, Inc. – had already pre-emptively sued competitors because they just can’t have other coffee in their machines.  [It’s a 141-page lawsuit].  

I wish that on Monday they had removed “Green Mountain” from their new corporate name, as this company’s values bear little resemblance to Robert Stiller’s proud, progressive little company in Waterbury.  Perhaps someone should create an online cemetery for those once-green-mountain-ish companies like this and Ben and Jerry’s who went down the rabbit hole.  

9 thoughts on “Green Mountain Coffee Rackets

  1. All any of use ever wanted to know is when they would make those enormously profitable K-cups recyclable!

    I actually bought a very early machine, simply assuming that, since they were already doing responsible coffee sourcing, the cups MUST be recyclable.  (Those were my naive days.)

    I called the company way back then and they told me that they were “working on it.”   That must have been close to ten years ago.

    This isn’t a cure for cancer.  It’s a recyclable plastic cup.

    And those reusable alternative cups?  I have had two of those, neither of which worked properly.  It was almost as if they have a planned defect.

  2. I should have, but never followed up a diary I did about GMCR K-cup tax breaks in 2012 – but at one time GMCR was attempting to extend one of the many VT State tax breaks they get. In 2012 they were angling for a $250,000 per year break for a specific machine used for packaging the K cups.


  3. If you remember, the Lege gave Green Mtn an exemption on what you might call a “bottling tax” two years ago, H756. Besides introducing a real fuzziness to the distinction between manufacturing and secondary packaging, it may have also opened an unintended loophole which could allow companies drawing water from Vermont aquifers to argue they could do retail bottling on-site without being taxed, rather than have to truck it out-of-state to do so as they do now. (That on top of not having pay a severance tax on the water in the first place…) A year-and-half later, Coca-Cola acquires GMtn.

    GMtn argued at the time that since the machine that puts the coffee into the little plastic cups is on premises and is used for “other” processes at the plant, the secondary packaging tax should not apply to them. The Lege bought it.

  4. As someone who’s been working on solid waste issues for 26 years now, I’ve been fighting against the notion that as long as something is recycling there are no environmental costs to using it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It takes resources to manufacture and transport these things. It takes resources to recycle them, sometimes more than it took to manufacture them. Something like the K-cup is particularly noxious even if they could be recycled. There are plenty of less wasteful alternatives. GMC in fact manufactures a re-usable cup that you can (What a Breakthrough!!!!)use your own coffee in and then re-use it! The best recycling never happens. These things should be boycotted. Vermont needs to get over this ridiculous kowtowing to anything that is made in Vermont or has any connection. Our supposed environmental ethic in this state is in many cases little more than environmental theater.

  5. This fast-growing and very profitable company has been awarded almost $9 million in state “incentives” in the last decade. The newly renamed company is now making application for its fifth round of “incentives” at the Vermont Economic Progress Council.

    The program (VEGI) is (supposedly) intended to reward companies for growth that would not have occurred “but for” the incentives. But due to a little known element of the methodology used to evaluate applicants, fast-growing companies can qualify (i.e., the background growth rate).

    I urged legislators to reconsider this many times before I became State Auditor but had no success. I intend to pursue it again.

    And to be clear, I’m very pleased that the company employs a large number of Vermonters. The only question is whether the current structure of the “incentive” program represents the best use of our limited economic development resources.

  6. When I heard the name change, I knew just from that that they are not worthy of my money.

    Instead of the more grammatically correct Green Mountain Keurig. (Adjective, Noun), they put the noun first, and then the adjective.

    I wonder why the even bothered, except for the name recognition of Green Mountain Coffee.  I fully expect this name to be an intermediate step, in another year, or two, they’ll move to the low-pay southern states and rename the company Keurig, dropping the Green Mountain entirely.

  7. In February it was Treehouse Foods; this week it is Rogers Family Company suing Keurig GM. Rogers is the company that GMCR unsuccessfully sued in May 2013; GMCR appealed but this week the US Ct of Appeals rejected their appeal saying that Rogers’ pod –97% BIODEGRADABLE was unique.  (Freeps story).

    A female consumer from FL is suing as well, but details not available yet.

    Then there’s a Schenectady, NY company, Fortitech, that makes custom nutrient premixes for their cider pod that is suing Green Mountain Coffee Roasters for nearly $1.77 million, alleging breach of contract, according to a summons filed this week in Schenectady County Supreme Court.

    I guess this will employ a lot of lawyers, but that’s not what you want from your coffee company.

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