Starbucks' 'Billion-Dollar' Plan Starts With Breakfast

Rollout of Healthier Menu Items Said to Meet Consumer Demand

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CHICAGO ( -- Howard Schultz's "billion-dollar idea" starts with oatmeal, apple bran muffins and a protein plate.
Starbucks' new, healthier breakfast choices which focus on portability and beverage pairings include an apple bran muffin with a cup of coffee.
Starbucks' new, healthier breakfast choices which focus on portability and beverage pairings include an apple bran muffin with a cup of coffee.

The Starbucks CEO has been promising healthier and better-quality choices in his stores, the result, he says, of consumer demand that will ultimately rake in a billion dollars for the company. And so the chain's menu of breakfast items, which launched today, focusing on portability and beverage pairings. Its "better approach to breakfast" includes whole grains, protein and -- everyone's favorite -- fiber.

The items have fewer than 350 calories, and, with the exception of the protein plate, 10 or fewer grams of fat. Starbucks spokeswoman Lisa Passe said customers were looking for a way to make "purposeful additions" to their diets, not just take away calories, fat and sugar. A key part of the program is the products' portability. Healthier foods have often hit roadblocks in the quick-service industry in part because they are perceived as less convenient.

"Many Americans are too busy to make a healthy breakfast at home, but it's the most important meal of the day," Katie Thomson, registered dietitian and senior nutritionist at Starbucks, said in a statement. "Our customers have told us they want delicious choices that offer real nutrition."

Growing trend
The question is whether consumers are going to storm the stores for oatmeal steeped in an insulated cup for three minutes. "We're starting to see a trend in much healthier fare in restaurants that are opening, more specifically focusing on healthy, organic and natural sourcing furthering the treatment of animals," said Darren Tristano, exec VP of Technomic. "It seems like in a difficult economic environment like this, if the trend is growing, it has legs."

Starbucks is adding a twist, however, tying the offerings into its coffee with suggested pairings, much like fine restaurants suggest wines with different dishes.

Stores have posted signage pushing three food and beverage combinations: oatmeal with a vanilla latte; apple bran muffin with coffee; and a low-fat latte with a berry stella, a star-shaped, whole-grain pastry with fruit baked on top. In addition to the three focal items, Starbucks has also added a nut bar, a whole-grain roll served with fruit spreads, and a "protein power plate" featuring a hard-boiled egg, bagel, peanut butter and cheese, to its menu.

Starbucks will be getting the word out through sampling events, Ms. Passe said.

Sampling works best
"Sampling is the best way to get new products into the hands of customers," she said.

Mr. Tristano said the new products are likely to enhance the brand's reputation in terms of offering healthy foods, and shouldn't hurt same-store sales. And because the chain is offering a larger variety of healthy items, customers are more likely to pick something nutritious "by default."

This summer, Starbucks also started selling smoothies. The healthier-than-average fruit blends contain milk, banana, protein powder with fiber, and either mango or chocolate syrup. Both the mango and chocolate flavors have less than 300 calories.

Still, don't expect the maple scone or the chocolate croissant to disappear. Ms. Passe said that the lineup comes in place of the usual seasonally-themed products. The only menu item being replaced is the original bran muffin.
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