In mid-December 2012, Caribou Coffee Co., the first U.S. major coffee company to source all its beans from Rainforest Alliance certified farms, was acquired by the Joh. A. Benckiser Group (JAB), a private German holding company.
Currently, the plan is for Caribou to continue to be headquartered in Minneapolis, with its own management team.
Joh. A. Benckiser Group is controlled by the Reimann family, the fourth-wealthiest in Germany. Other brands under their umbrella include cosmetics giant Coty and high-end shoe company Jimmy Choo. This is not JAB’s first foray into coffee, though. In summer 2012, JAB acquired Peet’s Coffee & Tea, one of the oldest family-owned coffee companies in the U.S. and a precursor to Starbucks. In October 2012, they increased their stake in D.E. [Douwe Egberts] Master Blenders 1753 to around 15%. Douwe Egberts is the Dutch company created when Sara Lee spun off all of its coffee and tea business.
The deal is not generally viewed as a fix-it-up-and-sell it, American-style private equity grab. There is a possibility that there will somehow be a merger of mostly West Coast Peet’s and mostly Midwest Caribou, or at least some sharing of buying or processing. I really hope that Caribou will retain its independence. When Caribou was public, they provided plenty of information on their overall corporate responsibility and coffee sourcing. Private companies, especially coffee companies, rarely do. I can only hope that under JAB, Caribou can continue with its transparency, excellent sustainability record, and its all-Rainforest Alliance coffee sourcing.
Update: In April 2013, JAB purchased D.E. Master Blenders.
Footnote: In poking around for background on this piece, I once again came across blog and social media comments from dopes that have persisted in calling for a boycott on Caribou because it was Muslim-owned and followed Shari’ah law. For a number of years, Bahranian-based Arcapita Bank was Caribou’s major shareholder. While you couldn’t get a ham sandwich at Caribou at the time, there was little reason for the Islamaphobia that followed. At any rate, the haters haven’t kept up with the times, as Arcapita divested itself of the last of its shares in Caribou in 2011.