Starbucks from Coffee to Wine to Food to Focus ?

Starbucks is the miracle story of a US-based company becoming the expert globally in selling quality coffee. The company gave us the concept of an extra living room, or as Starbucks says,’ the third place between work and home.’ The coffee is not cheap, but the perception (supported by the price) is that you get a quality cup. The company has tried several times to break out of the Coffee category but time after time realises that Focus on the Core remains the best strategy.

Back in 1971, the company was all about Coffee, Tea, and Spices. In 1987 the founders sold the company to Howard Schultz. Under Schultz, the company focused on coffee. It created a new logo, and gone were the Tea and Spices. The new logo linked the brand and category. Starbucks = Coffee. As a result, the company went through massive growth. Between 2005 and 2011, revenues increased from 494M to 1,246M, a staggering 152%.

By the end of 2010, the company was ready for more growth. The company took the thinking of a ‘third place between work and home’ to a new level. Their customer-led research revealed that ‘Starbucks customers are also wine enthusiasts’ and ‘Starbucks customers love beer too’. There was a demand for a casual meeting environment in the evening hours. Starbucks was going to fulfill that role and serve the customers what they enjoy: wine and craft beer. Starbucks became so much more than coffee alone. The logo was updated to reflect that. ‘Starbucks Coffee’ was removed.

The Starbucks website introduced the Evenings program :

‘Starbucks customers are already enjoying coffee at our stores in the evening, and now, they have more menu options including wine, craft beer, and small plates.’

‘Rachel Antalek, Starbucks in-house sommelier, led the Evenings team as they explored the world of wine, looking for the most interesting assortment that’s not only delicious, but a great value as well. The team evaluated different varietals of wine to offer the complex and unique flavors that customers expect from Starbucks.’

The menu consisted of ‘Savory small plates’ and ‘Perfectly paired wines’. Some tasty examples from the menu :

Truffle Mac & Cheese
Chicken Sausage & Mushroom Flatbread
Meatballs with Tomato Basil Sauce
Truffle Popcorn
Wines – Sparkling, White, Sparkling Rosé and Red
Craft Beer

The program grew eventually to 400 stores in the U.S. and locations outside the U.S. The 2015 annual stakeholders meeting listed the Evening Program as one of the seven strategies for growth :

‘By the end of 2019, we will double food sales in the Americas through breakfast, lunch, snacks and the Evenings program. We will grow our food business in the U.S. from 18% to 25% of revenues by the end of 2019 adding an additional $2 Billion to our base business.’

In 2016 Starbucks stopped the program. It failed. The official reason was a ‘counter service format’ issue:

‘It appears that this strategy did not work, especially since table service in the evenings conflicted with the counter service format in the mornings.’

Of course the Evenings program did not fail because of the counter service format. The Starbucks company forgot that the position of the brand in the minds of people is just Coffee. It was never about Evening food, wines, and craft beer. Just imagine people saying, ‘Let’s get a glass of wine at Starbuck’. Starbucks is not going to replace wine establishments or bars.

Once companies have put their minds to something, they do not give up. So Starbucks decided to take all the learnings from the Evening Program to create high-end Roastery stores. In 2019 Starbucks introduced six Reserve Roasteries around the world, in Seattle, Chicago, New York, Shanghai, Milan, and Tokyo. The Starbucks Reserve Roasteries serve ‘unique food and beverage experiences’. Once again everything is directly connected with Starbucks the coffee brand.

Starbucks keeps trying because food is a huge growth area. The mistake the company makes is to enter the food category with a coffee brand. Starbucks could have done a couple of things. First, it could have reinforced its leadership position in coffee by bringing the unique Reserve and Barrel-Aged Coffee from the Roasteries to some of its locations. Additionally, Starbucks should have expanded outside the box with the Conquer Strategy. Launch a new brand to grow in the evening food and drinks category. The new brand should operate in new locations, closer to where the bars and restaurants are.



This article is from the book Win With What – the first category-led growth book for anyone who wants their business to thrive and survive.

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