Nestle Acquires Blue Bottle; You Acquire a Preference for Less Evil Competitors

This week, Silicon Valley’s favorite coffee company, Blue Bottle Coffee, sold a majority stake to Nestle and people were pissed.

How pissed? Quite! Just check out these tweets!

Now you may be thinking, “Who cares? Everyone’s mad when their favorite independent company gets gobbled up by a big conglomerate,” to which I say: totally true. As any beer snob out there can attest to, this brand of vitriol is par for the course when a craft brewery sells out to one of the big players. However if you read closely, you’ll see that Blue Bottle fans aren’t mad that Blue Bottle sold out per se: they’re mad they sold out to Nestle. How can a “progressive” brand like Blue Bottle get into bed with an evil juggernaut like Nestle?

At this point, it’s important to take a step back and reacquaint ourselves with Nestle. Nestle is the largest food company in the world. Nestle has also had its fair share of controversies. And, while it’s easy to chalk this up to the near impossible task of having a clean rap sheet at Nestle’s scale, Nestle is truly in a league of its own when it comes to environmental and human rights violations. Hell, they even have a multilayered section of their Wikipedia dedicated to their controversies and scandals! Not even Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co, or General Mills have that (I checked)!

So, how bad are these scandals? Let’s take a quick run-through (for more in-depth explanations I recommend the aforementioned Wikipedia link or this article):

  • Aggressively pushing baby formula on LEDCs (less economically developed countries), which would leave babies sicker (formula wasn’t as nutritious as breast milk and requires clean drinking water) and mothers poorer
  • Ongoing illegal water extraction all over the world (in China, Pakistan, Brazil, and most publicly, the U.S. via California’s San Bernadino National Forest)
  • Use of child labor in cocoa production
  • Cutting a deal with Mugabe for 1 million liters of milk/yr from illegally seized farms
  • Generally not GAF about pollution
  • Then there’s this timely NYTimes piece about how Nestle and other large food companies are peddling their highly-processed wares in developing countries, which is making everyone unhealthy. Not a human rights violation, but… isn’t that Nestle guy in the video so smarmy?

Clearly, there’s a lot here. But should this affect your attitude towards Blue Bottle? Is continuing to buy Blue Bottle morally tenuous now that they’re owned by Nestle?

In my opinion, for sure.

First and foremost, as much as Blue Bottle says it will operate independently of Nestle, at the end of the day Blue Bottle profits are now profiting Nestle. Second, Blue Bottle founders don’t seem too concerned with Nestle’s practices and don’t think they can do anything to stop it. What?

“[Grubstreet] What do you think about the concern, specifically, about Nestlé’s water sourcing in California?
[James Freeman, Founder of Blue Bottle] For us, we’re thinking about our sustainability. In terms of commenting about Nestlé’s sustainability, that’s something that nobody on our team is really wanting to … comment about that. Those are things that are out of our control.”

K.

Lastly, none of this is out of left field. Outside of of Blue Bottle’s commitment to working directly with coffee bean farmers, there isn’t much in their mission statement to suggest the brand was ever *that* progressive to begin with.

So to Blue Bottle I say: Au revoir. I will truly miss your New Orleans Style iced coffee (which, if you ever make it to the Big Easy, get that here and thank me later).

Now onto the arduous process of figuring out where you could get coffee that isn’t funding illegal water extraction in California’s national parks…

JK! There are so many options waiting for you!

Your best bet is your local coffee shop. Simply go in and ask where they get their coffee - most coffee shops don’t source their own beans and instead serve a different company’s brew. Fortunately, most artisanal coffee brands pride themselves on working with small coffee estates and many have giveback initiatives, so you should be in good shape. Here’s a list of some prominent coffee companies that I regularly see at local coffee shops that appear to be both delicious and morally sound:

If you’re in NYC, you can also find coffee shops with diverse ownership and/or that giveback by using our Change MGMT NYC Map!

Not in one of those coffee-shops-on-every-corner kind of area? You may hate me for saying this, but… Starbucks is not a bad choice. Although they’re huge, they are widely recognized as having great employee benefits, 99% ethically sourced coffee, and according to Glassdoor their employees are happier than Blue Bottle’s*.

Doesn't that PSL taste less basic now that you know it's sorta/kinda contributing to your barista's 401k?

Bottoms up,

Kash

*Yeah, yeah, Blue Bottle's sample size is way smaller than Starbucks. I'll update when there's a Blue Bottle/Nescafe on every corner.