This Small Swiss Company Is Taking Starbucks to Court

Douglas A. McIntyre

Starbucks recalled a coffee maker, and the maker of the maker has sued. Starbucks called the suit “baseless.” It appears, for now, a court will decide the matter.

Starbucks sells a product called the Starbucks Bodum French Coffee Press. Bodum is a small kitchenware company based in Switzerland. Founded in 1944, it now has only a few hundred employees.

A French coffee press is a small coffee maker that allows people to press hot water into ground beans. It is also known as a cafetière à piston or coffee plunger.

Starbucks recalled 263,200 of the Bodum + Starbucks products and claimed they were defective. According to Reuters, Bodum sued Starbucks for “significant brand damage.” Bodum wants Starbucks to pay it for the reputation damage and recall costs. Starbucks says the suit has no merit.

The publicity around the matter risks the reputation of both Bodum and Starbucks. The recalled presses were first sold in November 2016. Over those two years or so, there were reports of nine broken knobs. Starbucks has not disclosed why the product was not recalled sooner.

Some Starbucks Bodum products are still available for sale. Several at eBay are priced at around $20. While Bodum coffee-making products are available at Amazon, the Starbucks model is not.

Starbucks, founded in 1971, has become the world’s largest coffee-shop company. It has over 30,000 stores and it has expanded well beyond the coffee business. It stores sell food, noncoffee drinks and accessories. Starbucks bagged coffee is sold in grocery stores. Starbucks also has expanded into the credit card business and has a joint venture with Spotify to sell subscriptions to a digital music service.

The coffee press recall is likely a small reputation risk for Starbucks, but one that has caused it some negative publicity. Perhaps more important to Starbucks, it is not considered America’s favorite coffee brand, as one of its major competitors holds that distinction.

The matter is different for Bodum, given the company’s size. The outcome of the suit almost certainly will have a major effect on its business, which is why it went to court in the first place.