Starbucks Goes 'Blonde'

Coffee Behemoth Offers Lightest Roast Yet in Bid for Bigger Share of Market

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In a move to capture a bigger share of the U.S. coffee market, Starbucks today announced the latest product in its coffee line: a "blonde" roast, its lightest offering yet.

Starbucks Blonde roast
Starbucks Blonde roast

Annie Young-Scrivner, global CMO, said at a Chicago press conference that 40% of the 130 million coffee drinkers in the U.S. prefer a lighter-roast coffee. She added that the blonde-roast will appeal to existing Starbucks customers, as many of Starbucks' customers have complained about its coffee being "too heavy," as well as to non-Starbucks customers who generally prefer lighter blends.

McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts offer milder brews and have in recent years gotten into espresso-based drinks.

Ms. Young Scrivner said the launch is a bigger investment than Via, its instant-coffee offering it announced in 2009. The marketing, which will coincide with blonde's January launch, will be a "360-degree" approach and will include TV, digital and social media.

The blonde roast will be available in Starbucks brick-and-mortar locations as well as in the grocery aisle -- the first simultaneous launch for both retail and grocery -- and will be available in whole bean, roast and ground, as well as in Via and K-cups. Blonde will come in two varieties: Veranda and Willow.

The chain also today announced an overhaul in its packaging, which will be organized by roast: blonde, medium (its Pike Place variety) roast and dark roast (such as its Verona offering). Ms. Young-Scrivner said the move "will allow our customers to pick out coffee much more easily in the grocery aisle." She added that for existing products, the new packaging could appear as early as November.

That move is not unlike the chain's Seattle's Best brand's overhaul of its line last year called the Levels system, with varieties simply named one through five that vary in flavor from mild to bold.

Starbucks had been testing a lighter roast for the last year, and went through about 80 different iterations. The coffee giant spent nearly 20 years developing Via.

The move into lighter blends is part of a continuing expansion. So far this year, Starbucks has introduced petite desserts, an expansion of its food line with "bistro boxes," gotten into the single-serve market with K-Cups, and unveiled a massive brand relaunch as part of its 40th anniversary, which included an updated logo that dropped the green ring with the text "Starbucks Coffee" and more prominently displayed its famed siren.

Earlier this year Starbucks surpassed Burger King and Wendy's to become the No.3 chain in the U.S. by sales, trailing only McDonald's and Subway. In 2010, it posted $9.07 billion in domestic restaurant sales last year, up 8.7% from 2009.

The chain's growth has come despite limited ad spending. Although Starbucks last year doubled its measured media spending, according to Kantar, it still only spent $94.4 million. Compare that to the measured-media spending of McDonald's, perennially the top restaurant chain in U.S. sales, spent about $887.8 million on U.S. measured media spending in 2010, up from $872.8 million in 2010.

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