Earlier today, Proctor & Gamble Co. (manufacturer of Folgers and one of the Big Four) announced the launch of a new coffee concoction formulated to reduce stomach irritation: P&G sees big market for stomach-friendly coffee – Reuters Business Channel | Reuters.com. (This story was also picked up by the Cincinnati Business Courier: Procter debuts coffee that goes down easy.)

This new product, called Simply Smooth, reportedly uses a special blend of coffee beans which are roasted to limit the level of phenols in the resulting brew. Phenols are associated with stomach irritation when consumed at significant levels. Simply Smooth is available in regular and decaffeinated versions and is being rolled out nationwide this May.

It appears that Big Coffee is lifting a page from the market segmentation playbook of orange juice. Perhaps the Big Four are looking for a profit strategy successor to their investments in cheaper robusta coffee (which, ironically, were made in response to the growth in popularity and price of competitive specialty coffee). Is this their first step towards the beverage company strategy to carve up the consumer coffee market with a confusing array of “consumer need categories”?

Who better to start it than P&G, who practically invented product branding strategy? I can only imagine what’s coming next from the Big Four: coffee with extra vitamins C & E plus zinc, calcium enriched coffee, heart-healthy coffee… One thing is for certain, however: these conversations have already taken place in their various boardrooms.

UPDATE: March 14, 2007
The New York Times ran an article on “stomach friendly” coffee today, noting the complete lack of scientific evidence indicating that it does any such thing: Decaf Being Joined by De-Heartburn – New York Times. As with a lot of product marketing, consumers need only to believe that it does something special for them.