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Rival K-Cup Makers Are Climbing Green Mountain

Keurig's Vue individual coffee-roasting system
Keurig's Vue individual coffee-roasting systemPhotograph by Kathy Willens/AP Photo

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters wants to keep its Keurig users in something like a monogamous brewing relationship. The company sells coffee and tea in more than 200 K-Cup varieties, even packaging pods branded by Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Folgers, and Cinnabon to ensure that consumers loyal to those brands use its Keurig machines, too. Yet all that variety on offer hasn’t kept some promiscuous owners of Green Mountain’s brewing technology from tasting around.

For years, anyone with a Green Mountain-made Keurig machine basically had no choice but to use a K-Cup made by Green Mountain. The machines, which are now in nearly 16 million U.S. households, brew one cup at a time from one little plastic pods designed to be plopped inside, eliminating the cleanup of traditional filters. But previously captive Keurig owners have recently started flirting with other pods, often to save money, ever since two of Green Mountain’s K-Cups patents expired in September 2012. Pods from competing manufacturers and generic brands have gained about 7 percent of the market in the last nine months, Green Mountain reported earlier this week. The figure was in line with the company’s expectations, yet it appears to be growing: In the past three-month period, Green Mountain said the generic market share had climbed to 11 percent. (Some manufacturers had already been making pods for Keurig machines before the patents expired, and Green Mountain has sued some of them.)