Saturday 23 September 2017

Irish entrepreneur sells hip US coffee chain in $500m deal

Entrepreneur Bryan Meehan. Photo: Christopher Michel
Entrepreneur Bryan Meehan. Photo: Christopher Michel
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

A Dublin-born "serial entrepreneur" has sold the hip San Francisco-based coffee chain he heads in a $500m (€420m) deal with Nestlé.

Bono and Ali Hewson are among the investors who will share the windfall after Irishman Bryan Meehan said Swiss food giant Nestlé - maker of everything from KitKats to Nestlé coffee - will buy a majority stake in Blue Bottle Coffee as the Nespresso owner seeks to cash-in on rising demand for high-end and so-called artisan coffee brands.

The company is under pressure from upstarts to retain its status as the world's biggest coffee seller.

Super-premium coffee maker Blue Bottle sells coffee within 48 hours of roasting it and has become a darling of the well-heeled Silicon Valley tech elite since it was started as a home delivery service by musician and self-declared "coffee lunatic" James Freeman in 2002.

Mr Meehan invested in the company in 2012 and as CEO has led dramatic growth across California and into Japan. By the end of this year the business is expected to have 50 outlets and will have spread across the US. Backing from Nestlé will give it the financial firepower to become a global brand.

Financial details haven't been disclosed but Nestlé is thought to be paying $500m for 68pc of Blue Bottle, with an option to potentially build on that stake.

Mr Meehan, a Dubliner and Harvard graduate, had previously founded the high-end Fresh & Wild chain of organic supermarkets in London that was later sold to Whole Foods.

He also co-founded the Nude skincare range, with Ms Hewson. It was sold to French luxury goods giant LVMH in 2011.

The Blue Bottle chain's appeal to the tech sector goes beyond its coffee. As well as Bono, its financial backers include founders of Twitter and Instagram. The company's growth to date has been boosted by around $120m (€100m) raised in funding rounds from those backers of a kind more commonly associated with venture capital backing for high potential technology start-ups than bricks and mortar retail.

After the sale, Mr Meehan will remain as CEO and Mr Freeman as chief product officer. "My goal as CEO has been to secure a sustainable future for Blue Bottle Coffee that would enable it to flourish for years to come," said Mr Meehan.

Irish Independent

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