Last Updated on 16 June 2010

Starbucks is trying to repeat what brought them initial success as a company – taking a low quality product and offering a higher quality alternative.

They started with brewing rich, bold coffee and introduced North America to European latte and cappuccino beverages.

And recently, Starbucks launched a brand of instant coffee, Starbucks VIA Ready Brew that beats the taste of Nescafe and Sanka.

Starbucks VIA

[Starbucks VIA Ready Brew launched in the Fall ’09]

Starbucks most recently announced the sale, in grocery stores, of pre-flavored ground coffee: Starbucks Natural Fusions. Ground coffee in three flavors: vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon. The difference from competing brands is Starbucks uses real ingredients (spices and botanicals) and natural flavors ground into the coffee.

Starbucks Natural Fusions

[Starbucks Natural Fusions launched June 2010]

The Starbucks Coffee brand was built as an alternative to low-quality, lack-of-flavor coffee; instant coffee; and low-quality flavored coffees. Historically, instant and flavored coffee were the worst quality coffees on the market.

I recently, harshly criticized Starbucks for the decision to sell flavored coffee.

However, as I’ve thought about it… why not? Why shouldn’t Starbucks pursue these products?

Whether or not you like the dark roast of Starbucks, they still raised the bar on coffee quality. And, by offering a high-quality instant and high-quality flavored – they’re following the same “better quality” approach they did with regular coffee.

Old-time Starbucks employees and early-adopters seem to be the only ones shaken up by the idea of Starbucks selling instant and flavored coffee.

Starbucks has always taught that the press pot is the best way to get the most flavor out of coffee. That hasn’t changed. What also hasn’t changed is that most customers drink coffee with milk and sugar.

I guess some of us are disappointed. We were hoping that Starbucks recovery plan would be to rewind the clock, and…

  • cut out the fluffy drinks,
  • focus on in-store whole bean expertise,
  • re-focus efforts on brewing machines,
  • make customer experience high priority,
  • focus on being the coffee expert…

But, I guess ‘expert’ also means ‘snob’ and that may be a turn off for the masses Starbucks is relying on to drive the business. Better to target the masses with instant coffee and flavored coffee and offer them a higher-quality choice.

By the way, I was shipped a media kit to sample the Natural Fusions coffees. They were delicious. They tasted natural – no funky after tastes. I thought the vanilla was the best, but the caramel and cinnamon tasted great as well. Even better with milk and sugar. if you like flavored coffee – you’ll love what Starbucks is offering.