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GeekWire intern David Schwartz; marketing and ad coordinator Cara Kuhlman; and intern Clare McGrane were the judges in our blind taste test. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Can the king of e-commerce become a titan of coffee?

As part of Amazon’s ongoing strategy to be in the everything business, the company began quietly rolling out its own private-label foods last month. Among other products, Amazon is now selling Happy Belly coffee, which puts the Seattle company in competition with its neighbor, Starbucks.

GeekWire compared Folgers, Starbucks, Stumptown, and Amazon's new 'Happy Belly' coffee blends.
GeekWire compared Folgers, Starbucks, Stumptown, and Amazon’s new ‘Happy Belly’ coffee blends.

GeekWire decided to conduct a blind taste test to find out how the two coffee brands compare to each other and a couple other blends: Portland-based Stumptown and good old Folgers. Our panel of coffee aficionados: Cara Kuhlman, marketing and ad coordinator, and interns David Schwartz and Clare McGrane.

Watch the video below to see the results:

Average scores:

Folgers Classic Roast ($7.99 for 30.5 oz): 7

Stumptown House Blend ($15 for 12 oz): 6

Starbucks Breakfast Blend ($12.25 for 12 oz): 4

Amazon Happy Belly ($9.99 for 12 oz): 3

If you’re shocked by those results, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. Was it a fluke or is Folgers really the most underrated coffee blend out there? The world may never know. Here are some of the comments by our judges.

David Schwartz, Cara Kuhlman, and Clare McGrane compare Amazon's new coffee to other blends.
David Schwartz, Cara Kuhlman, and Clare McGrane compare Amazon’s new coffee to other blends.

Starbucks

David: “Nondescript. … Wasn’t very flavorful.”

Cara: “Not very memorable.”

Clare, after giving it a 5: “I was just so in the middle. It’s the middle one.”

Folgers

David: “Smells better. … bright.”

Clare: “More flavorful, but not harsh.”

Cara: “It’s not very bitter.”

Amazon

Cara: “Definitely darker. … I like this one.”

Clare: “Oh, that’s very dark. Very sharp. … It smells like my breath is going to be bad later. Very bad.”

David: “I can’t place that smell. Smells nothing like coffee. … It smells like an old car. What is that? … It has no flavor.”

Stumptown

Cara: “This one smells more organic to me. Seems a lot lighter.”

David: “It’s earthy, but it’s a tasty earthy. Fruity, a little bit.”

Clare: “It’s got an edge of bitterness, but it’s not super bitter.”

We made the brews using an Aeropress, an increasingly popular device for making high-quality, small-batch coffee. Our testers sampled and rated each round without knowing which brand they were evaluating. The Folgers and Starbucks beans were pre-ground, while Amazon and Stumptown’s were freshly ground. Our taste testers channeled their inner soldiers and drank each cup black.

81TYUFflGRL._SY679_Amazon’s last-place ranking is, arguably, the second-biggest surprise. Although a 12-ounce bag sells for $9.99 on Amazon.com (two dollars less than Starbucks Breakfast Blend), Happy Belly isn’t necessarily marketed as a discount brand. The organic, fair-trade coffee promises “artisan, small batch roasted blends like those found at your favorite neighborhood coffee shop.”

Perishables are the latest in a series of private-label products Amazon now offers, including clothing and household goods. But unlike products from the Amazon Elements and Amazon Basics lines, the food items downplay the Amazon affiliation.

The new products, like Mama Bear baby food and Happy Belly coffee, have their own distinct brands, with little or no reference to Amazon on the packaging or product pages. The fine print says these private-label products are manufactured by AFS, an acronym the company told the Wall Street Journal stands for Amazon Fulfillment Services.

There’s a lot of upside for Amazon to produce private-label goods. They allow Amazon to control packaging, development, and marketing in-house, which typically results in higher margins. It’s a trick that traditional retailers have been using for years, but Amazon has the distinct advantage of an ocean of data and massive infrastructure.

The question is, will Amazon’s food products be good enough to attract and retain customers? Based on our taste test, the company still has some work to do.

(GeekWire’s Kurt Schlosser and Todd Bishop contributed to this project.)

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