Coinstar, which helped topple Blockbuster with its $1-a-day Redbox DVD kiosks, is now trying the same approach in the coffee market, installing dispensers to pump out cheap, fresh-brewed mochas and lattes at the corner store. The bright red Rubi box, standing 81 inches high and occupying 9 square feet, grinds arabica beans from Starbucks’s Seattle’s Best Coffee brand and brews a fresh 12- or 16-ounce cup of java through a one-minute process that mimics a French press. Coinstar managers view the $28.5 billion out-of-home coffee market as ripe for a player that can offer the same features that made Redbox the largest U.S. DVD rental service: low prices and convenient locations.
“The coffee market is enormous,” says Ken Redding, a Starbucks veteran who is general manager of Rubi. “The market is very much about convenience and desire. We’ve built a platform that can be in arm’s length of desire.”
Redding expects each machine to serve as many as 28 coffees and lattes a day, with a simple cup fetching $1 to $1.50 and specialty drinks $1.50 to $2. At those prices—up to $1.50 less than Starbucks for a latte—Coinstar is going after price-conscious shoppers. Coffee-sipping Americans on average spend about $5 a workday for their lattes and mochas outside the home, or $1,092 a year, according to Accounting Principals, a researcher in Jacksonville, Fla. That’s led everyone from gourmet chains, including Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee & Tea, to fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts to hawk java.
Coinstar may eventually install as many as 15,000 Rubi kiosks. While that might generate sales of $200 million a year, according to Eric Wold, a B. Riley analyst in San Francisco, Rubi is unlikely to disrupt the coffee market the way Redbox upended DVD rentals. One reason: more competitors. Another is that unlike DVDs, coffee quality can vary depending on where you buy it, says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. “With Redbox you could get a DVD as cheaply as a dollar, and you’ve got exactly the same thing you got on video on demand for $5, or that you paid $5 for at Blockbuster,” Pachter says. “There is a distinct difference in the quality of coffee you get out of a machine and the coffee you get at a Starbucks.”
Research from a test of 50 kiosks this summer at food retailers including Safeway and Harris Teeter Supermarkets showed 40 percent of coffee kiosk customers made it a habit to stop at the markets just to buy Rubi coffee, Redding says. Becoming destinations for lower-cost java puts Rubi in competition with McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, which have similar pricing, as well as gas stations and convenience stores. The revenue Coinstar would get from coffee would reduce its dependence on Redbox rentals, which accounted for 85 percent of its $1.85 billion in revenue in 2011, Wold says. Coinstar’s namesake coin-counting machines accounted for 15 percent of sales. Redbox also has forged a partnership with Verizon Communications to start an online movie streaming service by yearend.
The coffee venture also is an opportunity for Starbucks to expand the Seattle’s Best Coffee brand after the closing of Borders Group bookstores, which had almost 500 Seattle’s Best cafés before the company was dissolved during bankruptcy last year, according to Jim McDermet, general manager of Seattle’s Best. Coinstar is the sixth retailer to sign an agreement to serve Seattle’s Best Coffee, including Burger King Worldwide, Subway restaurants, and AMC Entertainment Holdings theaters.