It’s been widely assumed that Keurig’s forthcoming, deluxe DRM pod verification, its camera-equipped answer to the K-Cup knockoffs now leeching 14 percent of the $3 billion annual single-serve market, spells trouble for competitors who deal in cheaper per-pod prices. But maybe that’s because nobody asked the competitors. Yes, several are suing for monopolizing the market, but at least one — TreeHouse Foods, the biggest third-party manufacturer — believes that “under any circumstance,” hacking Keurig’s “advanced” new machines will only take “a matter of months,” hardly what you’d call a formidable obstacle.
Even if it’s longer, consumers probably ought to go ahead and steel themselves for a printer-ink-fights meets cola-wars-of-the-eighties scenario. Nespresso may be playing nice for the moment, having agreed, at least in Europe, to open-source its pods, but there probably isn’t a foolproof way to keep cheap alternatives out of the market. The shift toward squabbling over tech issues means the battle’s only getting a-brewin’ and increases the chances that cup quality — whatever there is of it, anyway — may be the first casualty.