Keurig CEO Sort Of (But Not Really) Apologizes For Company's Ridiculous Foray Into Obnoxious Coffee DRM

from the We're-sorry-for-being-a-little-too-innovative dept

You’ll recall how last year, Keurig Green Mountain created a surprising, negative public relations tsunami with the news it would be using a form of “coffee DRM” in its latest Keurig 2.0 coffee maker. The new technology basically prevented anyone from being able to use refill pods from competitors, or any of the more environmentally-friendly, more cost-effective refillable pods available online. Company CEO Brian Kelley and Keurig’s marketing department then made matters dramatically worse when they tried to claim the ham-fisted market lockdown was “critical for performance and safety reasons.”

The story got notably more amusing when “hackers” started defeating the company’s DRM measures with rather low-brow hacks consisting of pieces of Scotch tape. Competitors similarly began either developing pods that quickly defeated the embedded technology, or gave away plastic clips that confused the system into accepting competitors’ pods. In short, what Keurig thought was a clever way to lock down a market and make extra money, wound up making the company look like a tone-deaf, anti-competitive, mechanical dinosaur powered by over-caffeinated nitwits.

A little more than a year after the embarrassing saga began, Keurig appears to finally be beginning a not-entirely graceful about-face on the matter. After the company’s stock took a notable nose dive and sales of brewers and accessories dropped 23% last quarter, Kelley claims he’s now seen the error of his ways. Sort of.

Reading the actual transcript of Keurig’s latest earnings call, Kelley still can’t help but minimize the backlash as the concerns of a “small percentage” of “passionate” users. Meanwhile, while Keurig focuses heavily on the fact it was wrong for pulling the company’s own, reusable “My K Cup” from the market, the fact Keurig tried to bulldoze its way to market domination via obnoxious, heavy-handed DRM is, as you might expect, downplayed dramatically:

“I would tell you the other thing we heard loud and clear from the consumer while very small percent of consumers, a very vocal and intense, passionate consumer who really wanted the my K-cup back, what we learned that it?s important the message and the signal that it sends, the ethos that it sends is that we want consumers to be able to brew every brand, any brand of coffee in their machine and bringing the my K-cup back allows that.

…My K-cup wasn?t going to work with a new system as the new system had to identify the pod versus a carafe, so we took the My K-cup away and quite honestly we?re wrong. We missed, we didn?t ? we underestimated, it?s the easiest way to say, we underestimated the passion that consumer had for this. And when we did it, and we realized it, we?re bringing it back because it was we missed it. We shouldn?t have taken it away, we did. We are bringing it back.

So yes, while it’s great to hear the company admit it was “wrong,” Kelley only admits to being wrong for pulling Keurig’s own reusable pod from the market, not necessarily for trying to block all competing products — or for spending a year trying to argue that the ridiculous foray into DRM was necessary for the safety and security of Keurig’s products. Meanwhile it’s still apparently going to take Keurig until Christmas to re-introduce its own, refillable pod, and, contrary to media coverage, there’s no clear statement here that the company’s planning to back away from coffee DRM entirely. Still, it’s at least a partial victory, and Keurig’s sort-of-mea-culpa is the perfect way to belatedly celebrate this week’s International Day Against DRM.

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Companies: green mountain roasters, keurig

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Comments on “Keurig CEO Sort Of (But Not Really) Apologizes For Company's Ridiculous Foray Into Obnoxious Coffee DRM”

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34 Comments
John Fenderson (profile) says:

That was my reaction too

It was good to see that people rejected their lock-in scheme hard enough that it affected their stock price, but it was disappointing that the CEO (judging by his comments) doesn’t understand what people were rejecting.

The emphasis on the “My K-cup” was one indication. The other (more important) indication was that he thought the problem was that Keurig didn’t “educate” customers that they have a very wide variety of different brands of coffee available in K-cup form.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: That was my reaction too

That and their “solution” to coffee DRM is to “license” more brands to work with their reviled system. Guys, your patent expired, there’s nothing to license. Just stop putting that crap on your machines.

Not that it much matters, Keurig is dead to me at this point. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you.

limbodog (profile) says:

Side note

I know someone who works for Keurig. She says it wasn’t marketing or business that wanted the DRM, it was the engineers. Because that was how they could prevent the off-brand ones from exploding and spraying you with scalding water. Keurig had no control over what alternate brands made their cups out of, and when they tested them, found that they didn’t hold up to the heat and some were swelling like boiling balloons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Side note

So Keurig wasted a bunch of money developing DRM for “safety purposes” when they could have just spent money that they were probably already spending on lawyers to make sure the product manual writers included legalese about how Keurig doesn’t vouch for the safety of non-Keurig brand cups. I’m sure the potential to lock in customers to their supplies was just a seemingly profitable side effect of this “safety feature.”

I haven’t heard of any of the competitors’ pods exploding when used in a Keurig machine after bypassing the DRM or heard of any lawsuits relating to the issue either. If this happened in testing, it seems like it would have happened to a bunch of consumers and gotten press about it. Heck, Keurig would have put out a bunch of press releases about any published incidents as a defense of their DRM if they were widespread.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Side note

I second the AC’s commentary. Im not sure how they held on to all that much water with holes in the bottom and top and the Kuerig only moving the amount of water you called for to move through the kcup, I mean youd think people wouldn’t open the keurig until water stopped coming out, but if they were holding on to that water and then exploding not during brewing but onlyin peoples faces after the brewer was opened (not entirely sure why the opening the keurig makes the pressure worse), you think we would have heard about it by now. You really think keurig would have highlighted those incidents or even the potential for those incidents in their marketing material instead of the need to determine the size of the cup.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Side note

Sounds like the internal “story” meant to excuse the marketing idiots.

I’m an engineer. That’s not how engineers generally think.

They’re much more likely to advocate a big day-glo sticker that says “WARNING: Off-brand cups may explode and scald you!” as a temporary measure until they re-design the thing to contain the scalding spray.

limbodog (profile) says:

Re: Re: Side note

How do I provide proof of having a conversation?

And I assure you, I am not a Keurig shill, I don’t own one, I think they’re a complete waste of money. I don’t care if you believe me, I just wanted to pass along what I was told by a person who actually works there since everything else we’re reading is guesswork by people who may or may not be customers.

If I were going to shill for any coffee maker, it’d be my AeroPress.

FLG8R says:

Re: Side note

lol – check out the reviews for any Keurig product out there. Your ‘someone’ who knows insider information about the ‘engineers’ might want to talk to them about the basic engineering problems most of their devices (meaning different models) have coming off the line, some of which include the problem you are mentioning even if they are using the K-Cups. Kohl’s, Amazon, Penney’s, pick a site & look up the reviews or comments. I’d love to have a product like this but not with the reviews (I suggest everyone look them up before purchasing any Keurig item), not with a proprietary delivery system & definitely not at their price point. Their stock didn’t just drop because of the new system. Their stock dropped because people are realizing Keurig’s products are garbage & when the coffee makers give out, they aren’t replacing them with Garbage 2.0. Keurig is not the company they used to be.

Nop (profile) says:

Re: Re: Side note

The machine pumps very hot (~90C) water at high pressure through holes punched in the pods. While I’ve never heard of it happening, it’s not at all implausible that thin, cheap plastic pods could deform or even burst. Of course, you’d expect the company to play up such dangers for marketing purposes, even if they’re rare, or even theoretical.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Side note

…Because that was how they could prevent the off-brand ones from exploding and spraying you with scalding water. Keurig had no control over what alternate brands made their cups out of, and when they tested them, found that they didn’t hold up to the heat and some were swelling like boiling balloons…

If that actually happened a few times to consumers I’d bet the government would step in and order a recall. Other products have been taken off the shelf before it got to that point when the manufacturer learned of an issue before anybody got hurt. This product hitting the shelf with the stated issue doesn’t put Keurig in a good light, even if it didn’t have DRM.

Anonymous Coward says:

To know a manufacturer of a product is willing to attempt to lock it down in to a higher priced offering isn’t my cup of coffee.

Keurig can apologize all it wants, the actions speak louder than it’s words. Here’s a clue for them. Coffee brewing is not limited to their product and their product alone.

I will buy the product I wish and brew coffee how I damn well please. All this move did was ensure I will never buy anything from Keurig.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I may have missed something, but by my reading they didn’t say that they’re doing away with the DRM. What they said was that they are going to reduce the price of the brewers, they’re going to advertise more effectively that there are over 500 kinds of licensed pods, and they’re bringing back the My K-Cup.

Ed (profile) says:

More issues

I have a new (less than 2 months old) Keurig 2.0 machine. I can easily bypass the DRM well enough but I’ve been using genuine K-cups since buying it. After brewing just 3 cups a day for a month/half, the machine stopped working, acted as if clogged somehow. Called tech support, they talked me through sticking a paper clip up into the side of the “needles” and flushing water through the machine by holding the activation button. After a couple of those flushes, the machine now works as it should. This must be such a known issue, the tech lady said she was mailing me an “official cleaning tool” to help with this process and that I should use it monthly. Maybe those design engineers shouldn’t have spent so much time agonizing over imaginary exploding cups and instead made a more reliable device.

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