Starbucks Offers Free Cups of New Blend

Nationwide Tasting Event Hypes Mellower Pike Place Roast

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Starbucks is taking another page from the traditional-marketing playbook tomorrow by staging a massive product giveaway.
Stop by your local Starbucks between 9 and 9:30 a.m. PST (noon on the East Coast) for an 8-ounce cups of Pike Place Roast, a new blend named after the chain's first location in Seattle.
Stop by your local Starbucks between 9 and 9:30 a.m. PST (noon on the East Coast) for an 8-ounce cups of Pike Place Roast, a new blend named after the chain's first location in Seattle. Credit: Greg Palmer

The "simultaneous, coast-to-coast coffee tasting" will take place between 9 and 9:30 a.m. PST. East Coast coffee fanatics should stop by their corner Starbucks at noon. Starbucks is giving away 8-ounce cups of Pike Place Roast, a new blend named after the chain's first location in Seattle. Along with the diminutive cup of joe, customers will receive a tasting guide that employs evocative terms much like those familiar to wine connoisseurs.

Back to basics
"We are returning to the very best elements of our heritage and bringing back the simple romance and excitement of coffee," CEO Howard Schultz said in a press release. "Pike Place Roast truly represents the best of who we are, showcasing our new quality standards for freshness -- freshly roasted, hand-scooped, freshly ground and brewed with shorter hold times."

Mr. Schultz announced the Pike Place blend during the company's annual investor meeting last month as part of his turnaround plan. The blend, which was tested on about 1,000 consumers, is designed to address complaints that Starbucks coffee tastes "burnt." Pike Place has a lighter, milder taste than the usual Starbucks fare.

"It was an exciting opportunity to find the right roast that would produce the flavor customers told us they wanted in a daily coffee," said Andrew Linnemann, Starbucks' master coffee blender. "We heard our customers and we were determined to deliver the consistent high-quality cup that they expect every time they walk into one of our stores. We really took our roasting technology and everything we've learned over the years to someplace new."

Whole-bean comeback
The coffee will once again be hand-scooped and freshly ground. Starbucks had shifted to pre-ground, vacuum-packed coffee in recent years. As part of the return-to-roots theme, Pike Place coffee will be served in cups with the original 1971 logo. The company has done giveaways in the past, including a national "coffee break" in March 2007, but nothing on this scale.

Darren Tristano, exec VP, Technomic, said the giveaway gives Starbucks the chance to bring in new customers and gain back "lapsed" customers, which is particularly important during tough economic times when advice to cut out lattes is abundant.

"I think unfortunately the promotion will have somewhat of a dilutive effect," he said. "There will be people going in there who would have paid for coffee that will get a free one instead. Those people who are going to Starbucks for a latte are going to get a latte. But the coffee-drinking purists are probably going to go in and dilute what they would have spent."

Will it pay off?
The real key, Mr. Tristano said, will be in whether the Tuesday foot traffic will result in more sales later in the month.

"Anytime you do something that involves the word 'free,' the return on investment is going to be an important metric, and in this case traffic after the fact will be something they will be closely looking at," he said. "Ideally if you get somebody in and they have a good experience, they're going to come back in the next five to seven days."

The Starbucks promotion draws inevitable comparisons to McDonald's "Free Coffee Mondays" in Chicago and various sampling activity in other markets as part of the chain's premium-roast launch. McDonald's coffee sales subsequently soared.

Pike Place will be the first Starbucks coffee carrying the company's "C.A.F.E. Practices" seal. The mark promises best-quality coffee and self-imposed ethical standards for equitable relationships with farmers, workers and communities and environmental protection.

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