Starbucks to Sell Instant Coffee

Posted on February 12, 2009

Starbucks LogoThe Wall Street Journal reports the suprising news that Starbucks is going to be coming out with instant coffee. Starbucks' istant coffee product will be called Starbucks Via.
"This is a transformational event in the history of the company," Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, said in an interview. He has been serving it to guests at his home over the past few months without telling them it's instant and no one has detected it, he says.

The idea is to appeal to customers who want a more convenient form of coffee or don't want the waste that comes with brewing an entire pot. Starbucks will sell it for $2.95 for a pack of three and $9.95 for a pack of 12. Part of the pitch is that it allows customers to have a cup of Starbucks for less than $1. A 2-ounce can of Folgers that makes 30 cups costs about $2.69.

Starbucks officials acknowledge that, in the U.S. at least, they have some bias to overcome. "People don't think that instant coffee can be good," said Michelle Gass, executive vice president of marketing and category at Starbucks. To counter that, Starbucks plans to heavily push samples of the product and went through hundreds of versions to replicate its signature brewed coffee taste.

In another Wall Street Journal story, reporter Janet Adamy taste tested the coffee but was not told before hand that it was the new Starbucks instant coffee. She found that it was not at good as regular Starbucks coffee but it was better than tradional instant coffee.
Then Mr. Schultz paused and asked me to stop writing in my notebook. "The coffee you just tasted is Starbucks Via instant coffee, in which we have cracked the code on replicating the taste of coffee in an instant form." Using Mr. Valencia's original formula as a starting point, a handful of Starbucks coffee experts had perfected a better version that the company was about to sell in its stores.

I looked down at my sample cups. I'd had no idea. I don't have the most sophisticated palette when it comes to coffee, but I think I know the difference between instant and real coffee. I sipped it again. On closer examination, it didn't have all the flavor of a regular cup of Starbucks. And the smell wasn't as robust. But it was a lot better than traditional instant, and it wasn't a bad replica of regular Starbucks.

There is a bias against instant coffee for a reason. It just doesn't taste as good as good as brewed coffee. However, Starbucks putting out an instant coffee could get people to try instant coffee again.