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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Still talking about Starbucks Via?! Oh, dios!


Believe it or not, some people out there are still debating the business strategy and prospects of Via, Starbucks' instant coffee. Over at this Harvard Business Review blog, for example, there is a raging debate going on. Some say it was a smart idea, some say a bad one. A lot of back and forth about whether Via - at $1 a cup - is a "low end" entry into the premium coffee space or a "high end" entry into the instant coffee space.

Also, folks seem to be spending LOTS of time debating whether Via is any good. This, unfortunately I think, has little to do with the marketing question and if Via is a smart business move for Starbucks. EVERYTHING involving taste is subjective and debatable. Many (myself included) will say that ALL of Starbucks' coffee offerings are awful. Many will say they just love Tasters' Choice. It goes on and on.

The major issue isn't whether this is a good product or not. Obviously it is enough of a taste gray area that - just like Starbucks itself - though many may not like it, a huge number of the public will like/love it. We must remember, Starbucks is a MAINSTREAM brand in the USA. What do mainstream brands sell? Mainstream products that hit the wide middle spot. Neither too great nor too lousy. Satisfying most, disappointing and dazzling few.

A good brand analogy is the Gap. Until a few years ago at least, the Gap was unparalleled in their ability to serve the closets of the great yawning middle. Want some shapeless khaki pants that will make you blend in facelessly on casual Friday? We got 'em. I could never find pants there for me. Why? I'm pretty slim and I am a little more avant and "risky" in my wardrobe. But, lord oh lord, 10 years ago if you went to any mall, any tech company, any office on casual Friday in FLYOVERLAND, what would you see? Paunchy guys in their 20s-40s wearing shapeless khakis and polo shirts. Not unattractive, not attractive; not drawing attention, not hiding in the corner; just...THERE.

Anyway, leave it to your tastebuds whether Via is any good or not. To me, this whole thing looks like a slightly desperate move on Starbucks' part. I think the world is turning and they are going to have to change a lot. Expect more growth on the low end for the company, with other products/lines introduced. I wouldn't be surprised if within 10 years, most Starbucks resemble McDonalds outlets. As we know, a lot of McDs now resemble Starbucks so it's not too hard to imagine.

Thanks for reading.
Jonathan

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