Friday, February 13, 2009

Instant coffee, long-term implications for Starbucks

Starbucks’ introduction next week of instant coffee will certainly mark a turning point for the lifestyle brand. The question is, in what direction is it veering?

The chain’s leadership has chanted with near religious zeal that the concept has to recapture the special-ness of visiting a Starbucks—the aroma of coffee, the showmanship of the barista, the indulgence of a perfectly crafted artisan brew. It’s critical, they’ve stressed, to the brand’s turnaround.

Now they’re going to make it possible for some schlub in his underwear to snort down a cup by tossing some water and concentrate into a stolen Denny’s mug. It’s the equivalent of selling toaster-oven pizza to consumers you’re simultaneous coaxing to buy a duck-sausage-and-truffles pie at the little café on the corner.

The home office is insisting the instant, reportedly to be called Via, will be every bit as good as what patrons could get from a Starbucks storefront. “We have been working on this project for over 20 years, and have a patent pending on the technology that enables us to absolutely replicate the taste of Starbucks coffee in an instant form,” Vivek Varma, senior vice president of public affairs, said in a memo sent to employees yesterday.

And how did that news go over with the Starbucks aficionados who frequent, a gathering point of sorts for their ranks?

“I want to cry now,” wrote Keith Maxwell.

“Jesus Christ. Are they serious? This is sad. Very sad. Ugh,” lamented someone who identified his or her self as Scribelus.

Varma noted that the instant coffee market is a $17-billion business. The Wall Street Journal reported that Starbucks will sell its entrant for $2.95 for a package of three servings and $9.95 for a 12-pack.

The official announcement is expected to come at “exclusive events” next week in New York and other cities, and samples will start arriving at Starbucks units on Wednesday, Varma said in the memo.

No comments: