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Mar 19, 2008 03:24 PM

Starbucks buys Clover Equipment

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  1. Well, there was news a month or two ago that Starbucks had bought a few Clover machines and was using them in Boston.

    I dunno. The real cynic in some of us might think they simply want to quash anything that might give their competition something unique. But I doubt that's really it.

    More likely, they actually see something positive here, another new way to sell a cup of coffee. They buy the company because, well, the sheer magnitude of this makes it the most sensible action. Otherwise, how the heck is little Clover going to ramp up to build several thousand machines for Starbucks? Actually, I dunno how many they have placed and what they can manufacture right now, but I do know it's a bit of a niche so far and I don't think they would be positioned to fill a large order of equipment in an amount of time that would lend itself to a big rollout at Starbucks.

    The unfortunate side effect if you prefer indie joints is that if this is the big new thing, Starbucks will have control of it. They may not eliminate the business model of selling machines to other companies, though. We'll see. It's a little early. If we're really lucky, it could mean Clovers would get cheaper for everyone, but that may be too much to hope for.

    7 Replies
    1. re: CrazyOne

      Starbucks will cease distribution on 4/2 if they haven't already, so any new Clovers put in service will be at Starbucks stores. However, unless they change their drip roast profiles to accentuate the beans instead of the roast, the brewer isn't going to do anything for them. You HAVE to have decent beans when you're using one of those.

      It is sad because essentially the indies did all the post-launch field testing (generally at personal risk since most shops were owner-operated and the units ran $11K per) only for Howie to figure out that if he bought the company he could prove to people he still thought about coffee quality now and again in between their music division and other diversions.

      One thread of speculation is that the Clover company was purchased in order to assist with development of other products, and that the Clover itself is not the main objective (except perhaps to limit its distribution to indies). Personally, I'd expect the development to aim for a lesser single cup brewer that's networked to a central computer in the Starbucks Death Star whereby every cup at every store anywhere in the world is brewed to exactly the same parameters - by machine. That is what would make most Starbucks customers happy - and would be the type of improvement SBUX stockholders would appreciate and understand most.

      But that's just an opinion... and, if you haven't noticed by the lack of responses to your post, there's a really, really small market for this level of coffee quality.

      1. re: Panini Guy

        I'm not sure how much one can conclude anything about the market based on responses on the Chains board here....most people who would want such coffee aren't reading this one. appear to (and, you might own a coffee shop, I don't recall) and I do....but still.

        1. re: Panini Guy

          Wow, Panini Guy, I thought this was some sort of april fool's prank, but nope, I just read thread on coffeed and Starbucks is indeed stopping all sales of Clovers to anybody but Starbucks. Amazing. We have a wonderful new espresso bar opening here in 3 weeks (give or take) and their plan is to have a 3-group Synesso and two Clovers- now the Clovers, if they indeed get them, won't differentiate them an iota from the two Starbucks on the same street. This is so weird.

          On poster at coffeed say that Stumptown is getting rid of their Clovers- they had FOUR at one cafe, the one downtown at the Ace Hotel- and replacing with manual pour-overs. This is pretty huge. One wonders if any other companies like Fetco or Technivorm will try to fill the gap. Pourover is fine if you have a few minutes but the Clover is like magic.

          1. re: Panini Guy

            I'm fascinated more by the technology, and I have a small interest in seeing how this business of coffee shops in general (not to denigrate a place such as yours as a mere "coffee shop" or anything) goes along. My girlfriend dreams of operating some kind of coffee-centered cafe. ;-) That's not the entire reason, but I guess I pay a little more attention to coffee business stuff because of it. I have seen the one Clover that is in town, and I've tasted one cup of coffee from it. Well, I only tasted one or two sips, I think, not the whole cup. It comes perhaps closest to something I might drink than any other coffee I've tasted, but I still have trouble thinking I would enjoy it. I really *want* to like coffee. :-) I just haven't figured out how. Even a mostly full of milk espresso plus flavor shots silly drink tastes too much like something I don't want to drink generally. I had a non-flavored one made entirely with heavy cream once, whoa! That was dangerous, really, because I could probably drink those and gain a huge amount of weight (I need to lose, not gain!)

            Anyway, I wouldn't really expect many who have an interest in this kind of coffee quality to post on the Chains board, but the post was here and I thought I'd comment and see what happens.

            The Clovers can already be networked I know. The idea of a lesser single cup brewer is I suppose interesting in a way but I suspect would prove to many that Starbucks just knows how to take a good idea and water it down for the masses. (Or maybe that doesn't need any additional proving. ;-)

            The coffee beans issue is personally lost on me apart from reading what others say. I have no reason to doubt that is the case, though, so again what exactly will they do here? Presumably they have tried this and don't see it as being all wasted, or they are using only beans that are appropriate in the shops where they are testing. I dunno. I don't think they would waste this part and make it all about the amazing single cup technology.

            Sad to see they will stop selling, though. It was an expensive proposition for an indie shop, but it was a way to differentiate for sure. Hard to believe the Stumptown story. This would suggest they are dumping the 4 machines, a huge investment, just because they don't want to have to get that one particular service from an arm of Starbucks. Although, I suppose that wouldn't be the strangest thing to happen from this deal....

            1. re: CrazyOne

              Oops- when I said "we" are getting a nice new espresso place I meant my city- it's not my shop per se (though I can dream!).

              Stumptown might HAVE to get rid of its Clovers, because they're under no assurance that Starbucks will service them! There's another rub, a big one.

              1. re: John Manzo

                According to what I've read you would be correct. Essentially they thought they'd be buying something that would be continually improved with updated firmware and increasing value of the CloverNet as more indies hopped on board. Now there won't be new firmware released and CloverNet is kaput for indies. So, their position is that if this is as good as Clover is going to get for them, it's not what the bought and it's not what they're about so they're dumping it. Six machine in total I believe. I can understand losing them at the Annex, but the Ace Hotel model was entirely built around Clover, so that's got to be a tough one to swallow and figure out what's going to replace them. But kudos to Stumptown for sticking to their vision.

                Anyway it's not like Stumptown wasn't making great coffee before the Clover. They'll succeed regardless because their training and commitment is outstanding.

                1. re: Panini Guy

                  Ace Hotel has not one but TWO Mistrals, so it's not entirely build around Clovers- but it's going to be interesting to see this all play out.

                  I think we're going to be seeing a lot of sour grapes from Clover owners and customer- "it was overrated anyway," that sort of thing. I'm starting a research project on the Third Wave (as a neo-traditional "community") and I can see this being an important topic. What happens when your equipment "betrays" you?

        2. A clover at Starbucks would make me no more likely to go to Starbucks is all I have to say and I suspect very few of their customers will care about it. I'm guessing that Panini Guy is correct in that Starbucks likes how the clovers can be networked and the coffee replicated exactly from store to store. I'll be sticking to indie shops that actually care about coffee. The best part is that most indies provide a superior product for the same price and sometimes less than Starbucks.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Rick

            I just wish there was a good indie closer to home. I think the only way we'll ever rectify that (here in the vaguely Cranberry area, since you couple of Pittsburgh guys are here) is by moving. ;-)

            1. re: CrazyOne

              CO - Can't help you in Cranberry, but if you're ever in the Beaver Falls area, give Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea a try. They're right by the Geneva campus in an old house. They're now roasting their own. A young couple, Russ & Bethany are the owners and they've got it together.

              1. re: Panini Guy

                Yeah, I'm aware of them. Just that Beaver Falls is not a quick trip and not on the way to or near anything else we do, so it has to be a special trip. Might as well go down to 21st St or you guys or such in those cases; at least we'd pass by another thing or few that we'd need/want to do.

                Moving actually probably is in the cards, we want to be closer to (or really in) the city, but it's gonna be a couple years yet. Stupid me had to buy a house out there a few years back.... ;-)

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