CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Premium java giant Starbucks is venturing into what some would consider lowbrow territory with a soluble-coffee product called Via, according to three executives familiar with the matter.
Starbucks declined to comment on the launch, which is said to be a long-term pet project of CEO Howard Schultz and as such will get a significant marketing push.
Starbucks will begin testing the soluble coffee -- a term that conjures up images of instant brands such as Folgers, Sanka and Brim -- by selling it in Starbucks cafes as early as next month. It's unclear as yet whether the company will also extend the product to supermarkets, where it already has a presence with ground Starbucks-branded coffee.
The chain is announcing its plans next week. More information is expected to be unveiled at the company's annual meeting March 18.
Although the new product seems well-positioned for the current economy in which premium-priced coffee can be a tough sell, Via is not just a sign of the times. The instant product has been many years in the making and is designed to mimic the taste of store-bought Starbucks -- the point the company is expected to make in its marketing for the brand.
"It's a breakthrough in soluble coffee," said a person close to the project.