February 2, 2012

Canadian Grocery Chains Enter Knock-off K-Cup Scene

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We received news from our Canadian Correspondent, SH, that Canadian grocery chains have started to imitate a practice which recently popped-up this side of the border: knock-off imitation K-Cups. We’ve seen our fair share of good knock-offs (Rogers Family Company) to the downright awful (Grove Square), so let’s see what SH thought of the first Canadian Knock-off K-Cup to hit store shelves up North.

From SH: I was recently at my local Sobeys (major Canadian grocery chain store) last month and noticed they had come out with their own brand of knock-off K-Cups via their in-house "Our Compliments" brand. There were a total of 3 flavors: Light Roast, Medium Roast & Dark Roast (yes, those are the flavor "names"). Each are sold in 12-packs for $6.99 CAD and are a few dollars cheaper than the usual price of $8.49 for Folgers K-Cups or $8.99 for Van Houtte K-Cups. I snapped a quick pic from my cell phone & decided to try the dark roast.


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Aroma was… strange. During brewing, it smelled like an overly burnt roast but after sitting in the cup for a few minutes, it just smelled sour and lost all form of a "coffee" scent, really difficult to describe. Taste did not fare any better as it tasted like a cheap quality freeze-dried coffee you’d get in the bargain bin at your nearest discount shop. Yuck! While there was some attempt to mimic a dark roast, all I could taste was more sour notes and a bland character throughout with very faint notes of hickory in the background. Body was dark brown in color but there was so much "sediment" from the crystals in the cup that no light could shine through when held in front of a light source. Acidity sure was plentiful & was likely the prime cause of the overly sour taste. Mouth feel was rather dull & watery, as expected. If I had to rate this, it wouldn’t score very well and would likely sit way below the 40 mark (and that’s if I’m being overly generous).


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While they admit that their product is neither licensed nor originating from Keurig, I would not be surprised to see Keurig/GMCR file a lawsuit against Sobeys much like they did with Rogers Family Company for patent infringement. The design of outer packaging & how it opens up, the plastic cup itself and even the foil top are all VERY similar to real K-Cups.


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If you were to show one of these Knock-off K-Cups to someone who has never used a Keurig before (but has seen photos of real K-Cups), they’d likely be inclined to believe it was the real deal. I find this somewhat disturbing since Keurig has come a long way in the past several years to establish an in-store presence in Canadian grocery chains and if a single-serve newbie buys one of these knock-offs by mistake & suspects it was something Keurig produced, they’d likely be so turned off by it that they might abandon the Keurig platform altogether.


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Closer inspection of the packaging reveals yet another potential patent/copyright infringement listed in the ingredients… microground coffee. Last time I checked, Starbucks infamously introduced the World to microground coffee with their VIA products. Wonder if Sobeys will also be receiving calls from Starbucks’ lawyers as well? I was curious to see the contents so I tore open a cup expecting a blend of instant freeze-dried coffee crystals as well as super-fine microground coffee grinds. While there are plenty of crystals to be found, I was hard-pressed to find the presence of any microground coffee. What you see in the photos is merely residue from the crystals. Also, another odd ingredient listed is "autolyzed yeast extract". Seriously? What the heck is this? Instant coffee or bread mix? Blech! According to a wiki article, autolyzed yeast extract is used to "concentrate flavor & change texture". Well, if their goal was to create super-sour brown water, they succeeded.


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I seriously hope Sobeys decides to pull these knock-off products off its store shelves. Not only is it tarnishing Keurig’s reputation with these inferior products, it’s blemishing its own "Our Compliments" brand which usually produces somewhat decent products. They’ll work in any Keurig brewer, but I strongly recommend you avoid these at all cost. Go spend your $7 on a few drinks at Starbucks instead.


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A special thanks to SH for providing this Single Serve Coffee staff news article. We would also like to note he purchased a box of these cups on his own for the purpose of this article.


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"Our Compliments" cups will work in all Keurig brewers and are available in 12-packs for $6.99 CAD at Sobeys grocery store chains across Canada. These cups are not available in USA.

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Posted by Jay Brewer at February 2, 2012 7:43 AM

Recent Comments

I can just imagine what that must have been like. Over the years, of the dozens of "Our Compliments" products I've tried, I've yet to find anything that's palatable. Even their knock-off colas's taste like carbonated toilet water. It's the harsh and bitter truth.


Posted by: James at February 2, 2012 12:06 PM

FYI: If I remember correctly, autolyzed yeast extract is (more or less) the primary component of Vegemite or Marmite. Which does NOT belong in a cup of coffee, IMO. Ick.


Posted by: MG at February 2, 2012 9:05 AM

I’m all for knock offs, they help keep the cost down. Especially in the case of K-Cups where their patents are keeping us slaves to ridiculously high prices for what I consider to be pretty standard coffee. Unfortunately, because of these patents the only knock offs that can get around them are awful products. The pictures of the contents in the “Our Compliments” cups are very similar to the contents in the Grove Square cups. Even though their goal is to catch the wave by offering a lower priced alternative they too should be ashamed for charging so much for a subpar product. At 7 bucks for 12 cups I wouldn’t necessarily be racing for the coffee isle to get my hands on a box even if they were filled with real coffee.


Posted by: AO at February 2, 2012 8:20 AM
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