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Green Mountain to introduce 'wellness' drinks

NEW YORK (AP) -- Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. on Thursday plans to introduce a line of drinks touting antioxidants, vitamins and other health benefits, as the company looks to expand amid intensifying competition for its single-serve coffee drinks.

The Waterbury, Vt.-based company's "Wellness Brewed" drinks, which can be made with its Keurig single-serve brewing machines, come as the patent on its K-cup technology is set to expire this month.

Already, supermarket operators The Kroger Co. and SuperValu Inc., have said they plan to introduce store-brand versions of the single-serve coffee pods.

Separately, Starbucks Corp. plans to start selling its own brewing machine this fall called Verismo. The Seattle-based company says its machine, which will let customers make lattes as well as traditional brewed coffee, targets a different audience than the Keurig machine. But Green Mountain's stock nevertheless took a hit when the news was announced in March.

Green Mountain Coffee, which pioneered the single-serve coffee system in the U.S., experienced rapid growth on soaring sales of its Keurig coffee systems. But the company has struggled recently amid a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry, analyst concerns over its reporting methods and the looming expiration of its patent.

In announcing its third-quarter results last month, CEO Lawrence Blanford said that sales growth would moderate from the hyper-growth it had shown over the past few years.

Three of the new coffees to be introduced Thursday boast antioxidants and another called "Focus Blend" has L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea. Two other "Vitamin Burst" drinks were introduced earlier this summer will also be part of the Wellness line.

Mark Corey, who works in research and development at Green Mountain, said the company is not "speaking directly" to the benefits of L-theanine, noting that it needs to meet regulations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for any product claims.

But consumer advocates often advise against putting too much value — or any — on the extra nutrients food and drink companies add to their products.

"Usually, they're added for commercial marketing purposes, to make (the product) look good," says Mike Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which advocates for food safety.

Even if a drink boasts of antioxidants, for example, Jacobson noted that consumers don't know exactly how much they contain.

Besides, he said, nutrients such as antioxidants are easy to get just by eating fruits and vegetables. A peach, for example, has fiber, potassium and a multitude of other nutrients.

Still, Green Mountain says its research shows that consumers want added health benefits from their food and drinks. That gives the company an opportunity to deliver both to consumers, said Josh Kaplan, innovation brand manager for Green Mountains.

"This is the gateway, this is the beginning of the conversation," he said.