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Narragansett man challenges Keurig’s single-serving supremacy

Keurig's-single-serving-supremacy

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — A Narragansett entrepreneur is taking on the king of coffee-making, Keurig Green Mountain Inc., with a single-serve machine that produces both espresso and coffee in what he considers to be an environmentally friendly manner.

Gianni Spinazzola has worked for five years to create an “idiot proof” machine that could serve single cups of espresso — strong, black coffee made by forcing steam through ground coffee beans. In creating his “eBOX” machine, which is capable of brewing both espresso and American-style brown coffee, Spinazzola pits himself not only against Keurig but also against other companies fighting the Vermont-based giant, which according to its most recent annual report, controls an estimated 20 percent of the “K-Cup” market.

Spinazzola didn’t have much choice. Keurig’s entry into the single-serve market, and the subsequent domination of its K-Cups, threatened his business of selling single-serve “pods” for other coffee machine makers.

“After Keurig, everything started to disappear,” Spinazzola said during an interview at his home overlooking the east end of Galilee Escape Road in the Point Judith section of town. “We were shoved against the wall.”

Americans prepare coffee differently than they did before Keurig came on the market. Single-cup brewing machines are now the second most popular method for making coffee in the U.S. (behind traditional drip machines), according to Germany-based research company Statista Inc. In 2014, 29 percent of American coffee drinkers used single-serve brewing machine.

According to Keurig’s annual report, it accounted for 30 percent of retail coffee sales in 2014. More than one in five U.S. households had one of Keurig’s single-serve coffee makers.

While Keurig grew and grew, Spinazzola and others came to believe there was a chink in the giant’s armor — those ubiquitous plastic K-Cups are an environmentalist’s nightmare. Keurig rivals, Spinazzola among them, began producing and selling biodegradable and recyclable coffee pods.

Tapping a tub full of plastic coffee pods sitting on his dining room table, Spinazzola said the goal is to help eliminate that waste.

Spinazzola said he also spotted what he considered a weakness is some other coffee machines — they don’t produce the pressure needed to brew a good cup of espresso.

Through his own company, PODhead.com, Spinazzola partnered with an Italian design company to develop a patented single-serve espresso maker, which he dubbed the “eBOX.” He contracted with a Chinese manufacturer to produce the machines and a New Jersey company to make the single-serve espresso pods.

The eBOX machine use pods that are biodegradable, non-bleached paper.

After tinkering with the design, the company now has a version that makes both coffee and espresso.

He ran a crowdfunding campaign in 2014 to pay tooling and production costs of the eBOX machines. Supporters who gave $119 received one of his coffee machines. Those who gave $149 received 50 coffee and espresso pods along with the eBOX. The campaign raised $18,000. Thus far, PODhead has sold about 400 machines through its website.

Now, he’s working to strike a deal with a retailer willing to put his eBOX machines on their shelves.

“I invested everything” to get the machines ready for market, he said. “We need the resources to grow.”

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