Starbucks' Vivanno Nourishing Blends platform is the company's first meaningful response to consumer requests for more-healthful breakfast options that include protein. The 16-ounce beverages have 270 calories or fewer and no artificial sweeteners.
"There are many companies that say, 'We can give you a smoothie in a box,' and we resisted it," said Michelle Gass, senior VP-global strategy at Starbucks. "If you ask people, what they want is real food that starts with a whole, fresh fruit."
Smoothies have become a must-have item at fast-food chains. Sonic has been wildly successful with its blended fruit slushes, and Taco Bell introduced a similar product called Fruitista Freeze this summer. Coffee rival Dunkin' Donuts recently rolled out smoothies with less fat and calories than its standard version, and McDonald's is testing a smoothie platform it is likely to roll out nationwide by the end of next year.
Smoothies are Starbucks' first answer to requests for healthful meal options following the removal of breakfast sandwiches, which did not go over very well with many consumers.
Starbucks also has been conducting tests to produce a new raft of options for the bakery case. CEO Howard Schultz has promised delivery by fall.
Ms. Gass added that Starbucks is bringing on the smoothies only after taking care of the health-and-wellness basics: making more low-calorie drink options available, swapping whole milk for 2% as the default and eliminating artificial trans fats.
Can be customized, of course
Starbucks' smoothies are made with a banana, 2% or skim milk, protein powder with whey and either fruit juice or chocolate. Because it's still Starbucks, the drinks can be customized. The orange-mango-banana smoothie (made with Naked Juice) can be boosted with green tea, and the banana-chocolate smoothie can stand up to a shot of espresso.
Ms. Gass said while it was important to deliver on the promise of healthful and fresh products, a few operational issues resulted. Making sure all the U.S. locations could get enough bananas, for instance, was a gargantuan task. But Ms. Gass said the difference is meaningful to Starbucks consumers.
"You look at what's on the market today, it's no wonder everyone is confused about health and wellness," Ms. Gass said. "Many of these products have artificial ingredients and added sugar."
While this extension lies well outside the critical coffee category -- a key focus of Mr. Schultz's turnaround plan -- Ms. Gass stressed that the company has dealt with java first. As part of the company's transformation agenda, which she oversees, Starbucks is rolling out new espresso machines, higher-end coffee makers, and a new coffee blend that has boosted sales between 5% and 15% depending on the region.