Devotees of Stumptown Coffee, a high-end roastery with fewer than 10 total locations in four select cities, pride themselves on avoiding mainstream coffee chains. What they are probably oblivious to, however, as they sip their mochas and cold brews, is that their haven of individuality may soon be just another chain in the Phoenix airport. What they might suspect even less is that the story of microfinance in Bangladesh may foretell the fate of their preferred coffee shop.
Stumptown, the iconic small-scale brand, was recently acquired by Peet’s, a chain with a couple hundred locations. On a buying spree, Peet’s has been in the news for taking over Intelligentsia, another well-loved and self-consciously indie coffee brand. And JAB Holding Company, the conglomerate that owns Peet's, announced last year that it was acquiring the at-home coffee-brewing system Keurig.* While Peet’s offers reassurances that Stumptown will retain its authenticity even as it attempts to scale, precocious corporate growth has been shown to corrode the very core of what has, so far, sustained Stumptown: loyalty.
Stumptown’s sale to Peet’s exemplifies an economic phenomenon not confined to the world of craft coffee. Stumptown joins the ranks of a number of popular brands that went from independent to corporate—the Italian San Pellegrino, now owned by the Swiss giant Nestle (along with its main competitor Perrier), the originally Quaker-owned chocolate-bar maker, Cadbury, acquired by the U.S. corporation formerly known as Kraft, and The Body Shop, the cosmetics brand synonymous with ethical sourcing, bought by the French behemoth L’Oreal, to name a few.