Letting Small Businesses Grow Up

By: Arielle Dubowe

Editor: Hannah Avdalovic

I buy my ground coffee from Trader Joe’s. There’s nothing special about it. The blend is called “Breakfast Blend” and it goes nicely with my fried eggs and toast. Most coffee purists would be horrified at my choice, a choice that might seem thoughtless and disrespectful to them. Just like how most of them were horrified at James Freeman’s choice to let Nestlé buy out his coffee company, Blue Bottle.

Recently, Nestlé—the largest food company in the world—has invested a 68% stake in Blue Bottle, a 29-store chain dedicated to artisanal coffee. Founder James Freeman opened his first coffee shop 15 years ago in a potting shed in Oakland, California. Now his roasting hobby has turned into a successful business that practices the masterful art of brewing coffee. According to a New York Times article1, Freeman feels his partnership with Nestlé validates his lifelong project of bringing the perfect, sustainable cup of coffee to the masses. However, as mentioned in the article, many devoted Blue Bottle customers do not agree with Freeman’s decision.

So this got me thinking—why do people react negatively to corporations buying out small businesses? Small businesses are the darling of our economy, especially today with the increased interest in local, artisanal products. Small

businesses have owners people can get to know. They have wholesome products made by real people. Therefore, it makes sense how people react when discovering their favorite ice cream company, health food store—or coffee shop in this case—gets taken over by a cold, money-oriented corporation.

People often distrust corporations and for good reason—there’s always news about scandals, exploitation or environmental destruction caused by these unethical giants. Indeed, people were understandably upset about the Nestlé-Blue Bottle partnership due to Nestlé’s history of abusing local water sources for their water products.

But are all corporate takeovers of small businesses corrupt? Just because Nestlé now owns 68% of Blue Bottle doesn’t mean their coffee will be poisoned. It also doesn’t mean Freeman is now involved with Nestlé’s questionable water practices. Instead, this partnership means Freeman and his company can focus on educating their customers on the practice of making pure coffee by expanding their stores.

With this kind of news, it’s important for people to know all the facts. While Nestlé does now own the majority of Blue Bottle, Blue Bottle will still act as a stand-alone entity according to Nestlé’s website.2 This means Blue Bottle’s original mission and business model will still be guided by Freeman and remain untouched by Nestlé.

In fact, instead of this corporation taking advantage of a small business, it’s the other way around. Blue Bottle will reap far more benefits than Nestlé as

Freeman and his company will have access to Nestlé’s massive customer base and global influence. Nestlé simply just wants front-row seats to one of the hottest food trends around, which Freeman can easily provide.

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