Meet the secretive German company that owns Panera, Peet's, Krispy Kreme and Keurig

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Michael Kors garnered big headlines in the retail world last week when it purchased iconic high-heel maker Jimmy Choo for $1.2 billion; global shoppers know both brands well.

But far less is known about the company that sold off Jimmy Choo: JAB Holdings, which is looking to sell off its luxury footwear investments at a time when the retail landscape in America is ugly, and food is friendlier.

The list of recognizable brands that JAB owns is eye-popping: Panera, Peet’s, Krispy Kreme, Keurig, Caribou Coffee, Mighty Leaf, Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Espresso House, Baresso,and Einstein Bros Bagels (part of Einstein Noah). Those all group together nicely: coffee, bagels, donuts, and restaurants that serve those things.

But JAB also owns some brands that look like outliers compared to the previous list: Bally, a Swiss shoe maker; Belstaff, a British jacket maker; and, until last week, Jimmy Choo. These are all housed under JAB Luxury, and JAB announced back in April it would seek to sell them off. Now it has unloaded Jimmy Choo.

And there’s more that JAB owns: Coty, which itself is an extensive holdings company that owns Calvin Klein, Clairol, Covergirl, OPI, Marc Jacobs and more. Coty is publicly traded on the NYSE, but JAB is its controlling stakeholder. The stock is up 9% in 2017, and JAB isn’t selling COTY, because it fits under its stated “consumer goods” focus.

Sydney town Crier Graham Keating heralds the opening of a Krispy Kreme store in Sydney, May 2004. REUTERS

JAB is family owned, privately held, and has roots dating back more than 100 years. The four family members who own JAB (each of them reportedly worth $4 billion) are all descendants of German chemist Ludwig Reimann, who in the 1800s became the business partner of German businessman Johann Adam Benckiser and married Benckiser’s daughter. The name JAB, formed in 2011, pays tribute to Benckiser through his initials.

The four family members are extremely private and do not talk to the press. They do not disclose financial information apart from the purchase price of each acquisition. A spokesperson for JAB declined comment for this story.

In just six years, JAB has quietly become one of the most powerful companies in the food business. It bought Peet’s back in 2012 for $975 million, Einstein Noah in 2014 for $375 million, Keurig Green Mountain last year for $14 billion and Krispy Kreme for $1.35 billion. This year, it bought Panera for $7.5 billion. JAB has spent more than $40 billion, all told, on acquisitions.

JAB acquired Intelligentsia and Stumptown—both of them small, “third wave” coffee roasters that were well-respected among hipster coffee snobs—through Peet’s, when Peet’s, in a voracious two-month stretch in 2015, bought Stumptown outright and took a majority stake in Intelligentsia.

And the fact that Peet’s, Intelligentsia and Stumptown are all owned by a deep-pocketed conglomerate raised some alarms back in 2015 among (you guessed it) coffee people. The food web site Eater wrote that “craft coffee is consolidating” and wondered whether this might compromise the quality of these brands. “These newly acquired brands are expected to remain autonomous, and established brands under the JAB umbrella likely will not be tinkered with,” Eater wrote, while also noting that, on the other hand, JAB has begun combining Einstein Bros with Caribou’s in some markets, opening more than 45 combo shops called Coffee & Bagels. But two years later, the hue and cry has mostly died down. (There are bigger coffee players to worry about.)

Even as JAB seeks to sell off retail brands in favor of food and coffee, its brick-and-mortar footprint is now quite large: 2,000 Panera locations, 1,000 Krispy Kremes, 600 Einstein Bros, more than 300 Caribou coffee shops, 230 Peet’s locations, 17 Intelligentsias and 12 Stumptowns.

As JAB wrote in its press release on selling Jimmy Choo, “A disposal of Jimmy Choo and Bally would make strategic sense because neither offer the same cost synergy advantages as the company’s other businesses in the fast-moving consumer goods sector.”

Indeed, food and coffee are fast-moving right now, and so is JAB. As Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer said (see above video), “It’s worth knowing about JAB, because I don’t think this is the last we’re going to hear of them.”

Daniel Roberts often writes about retail and coffee at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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