Starbucks Jumps on Food-Sourcing Trend in Upcoming Campaign

See the Spot: Coffee Giant Turns to Telling of Origin Stories, Bean Quality

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As the consumption of coffee increases and consumers are increasingly curious about the origins of their food, Starbucks is launching a campaign focused on the quality of its coffee beans and how and where they're sourced.

The campaign, one of the chain's major efforts of the year, will launch Sunday with a TV spot during the Emmys. In the ad, a voiceover says: "The bean matters, because you cannot roast in quality, you cannot roast in complexity." The voiceover is accompanied by documentary-style black-and-white imagery of the coffee plantations as well as the roasting and tasting processes. The spot ends with a graphic that says: "higher arabica standards."

Starbucks has long promoted itself as a premium brand, but Global CMO Sharon Rothstein said that it's important to highlight the quality of the beans Starbucks selects. "We recognize that the story of what it takes to go into farming and selecting and roasting our beans hasn't been told for some time," said Ms. Rothstein, who joined Starbucks in March. "We wanted to give a real voice to the pursuit of finding those beans. It just seemed like there is a deep, rich set of stories and conversations that we could have. While we've told them, they're probably not as well known to our customers."

The spot will also air in higher-end movie theaters in the U.S. Print ads will roll out Oct. 7 and will appear in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker, among other "elite" publications. The campaign, created by Omnicom's BBDO with help from the Starbucks' in-house team, will also include digital and social-media efforts. The campaign is expected to continue over the next year.

Starbucks currently has information about its coffee brands and instructions for brewing techniques, among other things, on its site, but Ms. Rothstein said that Starbucks is overhauling its website and content over the next handful of months. Longer-form videos for this campaign will be on the Starbucks website in October -- they're what the company calls "origin stories," and initially videos for four of its 20-plus brands, including Veranda Blend, Pike Place Roast, French Roast and Ethiopia, will roll out. Ms. Rothstein said that the chain will eventually add more content for the remaining coffee brands.

But Starbucks isn't the only coffee purveyor to go to great lengths to provide web content about its products. Many small specialty coffee companies, such as Stumptown Coffee Roasters from Portland, Ore., and Chicago-based Intelligentsia, have long had robust websites that include the detailed information on the origins of their beans.

Jeff Davis, president of research firm Sandelman, said that Starbucks likely recognizes that there's been an increase in popularity of small premium coffee companies. "They're probably trying to defend against the little guys, but I don't know that they really have an issue there. [Starbucks'] distribution is going to trump [the smaller guys] every time. But they still need to support quality. That's what their brand positioning is all about, and this is a good way to support that."

Starbucks, he said, has had consistently strong quality ratings among consumers. But because of its premium positioning and price tag, it rates lower on value. Starbucks is also the quality player in coffee amongst the major fast-food chains. According to Sandelman research, 85% of Starbucks users say the product's quality is excellent or very good.

The origin-type stories that major marketers are investing in is a sign that they're taking cues from smaller culinary circles and tapping into the trends that consumers increasingly want to know where their food is from and how it's made. McDonald's in early 2012 launched a campaign that featured four of its U.S. beef and produce suppliers. The most recent iteration of that effort -- which includes a 2-minute video online as well as TV spots -- features apple farmers talking about their relationships with McDonald's.

Chipotle last year made major waves when it aired an ad -- its first national spot -- about a pig farmer that has a crisis of conscience and begins raising his hogs in a more humane manner. Just this month, it launched a longer-form video with a message about the perils of factory-farming.

Starbucks spent about $86 million on U.S. measured media in 2012, according to Kantar Media, down from $110.1 million the prior year.

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