2009-02-19

I don't see any crystals

I don't know what, but something about coffee culture in general -- and Seattle coffee culture in particular -- makes me think that if I ever drink instant coffee, I should do it in private and hide the evidence.

-- Monica Guzman
The Big Blog
2009-02-17


War, Pestilence, Famine, and Starbucks Instant Coffee. Those horses all appear in the Book of Revelations, right?

Well it seems like we have all four now:


Starbucks turned Maxwell House on its head. And, while it is now fashionable to bash "Charbucks" it's important to remember that Starbucks did create the gourmet coffee industry in the US.

But instant? Can Starbucks make instant coffee that is actually good? I'm sure it will be better than Folger's, Nescafe, and Taster's Choice, but that doesn't mean it will be good. It's not exactly a high bar.

Even Starbucks expects it to be a challenge. The almost apologize for the entire Instant Coffee business:
I'm willing to give it a try. Apparently a lot of people are. On Wednesday I first heard about this on the news. On the Starbucks website, there was an offer for a free sample. A day later, however, the offer was gone.

Some see this as desperate and foolish move for Starbucks. I'm not so sure.

If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality, instant product it would be a great way to supplement their business. I can't see it cutting into the business the stores do. People won't choose to make their own vs. going to to the store (unless it really is awesome). They'll use the instant when getting to a store is inconvenient. Or after hours. Or in places where they don't have access to their own coffee machine and beans.

If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality instant product, I could see taking it with me when I travel. All I would need to make decent coffee in a hotel room then is a way to boil water. Existing hotel coffee makers can at least to that. Plus many hotel rooms have microwave ovens. And there are plenty of portable boiling tools. It could be a great alternative to the awful coffee that often comes with a room.

If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality instant product, I could see people taking it work with them. It could provide a convenient way to make decent coffee at their desk. Not all offices supply coffee, and those that do don't always supply good coffee.

If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality instant product, it could extend their brand into a new, but related field. One of the reasons Starbucks has had problems in recent years is they lost focus.

They expanded into music. They experimented with full service restaurants. The experimented with furniture. The sold books, CDs, plush toys, and all sorts of things in the stores. They added hot breakfast sandwiches. It was all related to the brand, but it did get away from their core expertise -- coffee.

And it distracted from the atmosphere. A Starbucks isn't a store. It's a coffee shop. And there is an ethos surrounding coffee shops through the ages. They have often spoken of the Third Place. It's not work, and it's not home. But it can be an important place in someone's life. The over emphasis on selling stuff distracted from that.

But Starbucks, like any publicly traded corporation, must grow. It must generate additional value for its owners, the shareholders. If Starbucks can actually make a high-quality instant product, this gives them a growth path that is still tied to their core product -- coffee.

I'm skeptical, but I'll give it at shot.

7 comments:

Jack Comics Legends and Lore said...

I agree with your statement "And it distracted from the atmosphere. A Starbucks isn't a store. It's a coffee shop. And there is an ethos surrounding coffee shops through the ages." In my neck of the woods Starbucks is empty when the real coffee shop is booming. It's really a big Mom and Pop, but it only serves coffee, coffee drinks and pastries. It has free internet access. Plenty of seating. Starbucks lost its way. I brought my computer to a Starbucks in Boston and they wanted me to pay $ 9.00 for a connection.

Exaggerato said...

I'm reminded of something I saw on Engrish.com some while back about a Korean brand of instant coffee sold under the name "Marxism--God's favored coffee!"

phuckpolitics said...

I can't wait till I can buy these so I don't have to drink the shitty work coffee.

sir jorge said...

i am drinking it as I type this, a difficult task. It's bland. It's light, it doesn't taste like starbucks it tastes like "instant" coffee.

Lame.

It'll still make money though.

Stefan said...

While it may supplement their existing coffee sales, I think it cheapens the brand. Granted I don't like paying $4 for a cup of coffee (and have since bought my own espresso machine and rarely visit a coffee shop), but instant coffee just seems, well blah, regardless of brand. Maybe I'm a purist, or maybe I just am not a fan of throwing money at an average coffee at Starbucks. I know they're in dire straits, financially, but still...

Nice write up.

Dr. Lauren said...

I love the fact their trying something new, but no matter if the name is stamped on the package, I'll never drink it.

Cromely said...

@Jack Comics Legends and Lore: The Wifi business is an interesting one. SBUX has been using T-Mobile for service for a number of years with that 9.95 per day rate. Their starting to do it differently now. They are slowly rolling out AT&T service. And they are offering free service in some cases. To get free access, I think you have to use the SBUX Duetto card to pay. But it hasn't been quite clear to me from the POP. Which is another problem.

@Exaggerato: That's great.

@phuckpolitics: I can relate. It's one of the many reasons I'm glad I don't go into an office every day.

@sir jorge: That's a shame. Thanks for that, though.

@Stephan: I wouldn't say their in a dire situation. Same store sales have declined year over year, and they have closed some underperforming store, but they are still profitable. The stock has taken a beating, but so has everything else. Even before the economic troubles burst on to the news front, the stock was probably a bit over priced. The fundamentals of the business are good. It's growing that business that's a problem.

It may cheapen the brand, though. I wish preserving their brand was a higher priority. The stand alone store are company owned and controlled, but the locations in Barnes & Noble, airports, and similar locations are licensed. And while many of them do a good job, I'd still rather have my Starbucks beverage prepared by a Starbucks barista than by an HMS Host barista.

I think it would be better if they branded those locations as something like "Star-Light" or something else to draw the distinction.

@Dr. Lauren: I'm willing to give it a try. It wouldn't be the first time I was surprised.