In development for 20 years, news of Starbucks instant coffee project was leaked 5 days before today’s unveiling, conveniently, just enough time for buzz to circulate over the weekend before the official announcement.
The product, called “Via” will be initially marketed in Seattle and Chicago. In a statement this morning to the Huffington Post, CEO Howard Schultz indicated that, “regardless of our ubiquity, that customers continue to tell us they want more Starbucks, and more ways and opportunities to enjoy it.”
Richard Honack, a senior lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management supports the approach, commenting, “instant coffee just gives Starbucks another way to reach consumers. They’ve got everything else on the shelf; they might as well have instant coffee,” in an AdAge article on Monday.
I find it ironic that almost two years ago to the day, Schultz himself complained in his most famous leaked memo titled –I kid you not– “The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience,” about company directives that were “watering down of the Starbucks experience.” Go read it. I’ll wait.
So how, how may I ask, is the push to market instant coffee any different than the espresso machine automation, cookie-cutter store designs and lack of coffee aroma that Schultz himself argued were individually made on their own merit, but together, “much more damaging than the individual pieces.” Did he read the memo?
As I was quoted as saying in today’s AP article on the subject: “I see it as being a very short-term approach to a long-term brand problem.” To me, it appears that the company is rushing to throw out any product that it can find to make more money from its recognition and customer traffic today, but not thinking of how that weakens the overall image for tomorrow — just as they did with automated espresso machines, cookie-cutter store designs, lack of coffee aroma, breakfast sandwiches and so on.
It’s surprising that Howard Schultz does not recognize the ironic similarity between his recent management decisions and the ones he complained about only 2 years ago before returning as head the company. Even more surprising is that no one has questioned him about it.