Starbucks goes instant

You know things are tough when the poster child for burnt-tasting expensive coffee is humbled enough to introduce not just a value menu, but now they are rolling out instant coffee.

The new product, called Via, will be sold at Starbucks stores in packs of three for $2.95 and packs of 12 for $9.95, according to the Wall Street Journal. Customers can “brew” the coffee by emptying the granules into hot water.

Vivek Varma, senior vice president of public affairs, told employees in an e-mail that Via will “absolutely replicate the taste of Starbucks coffee,” and that it is a “transformational product.”

The problem with this, however, is still the expensive price point and the notion that instant coffee tastes terrible.  It’s scraping the bottom of the coffee barrel.  In other words, what’s the target market for this product?  If you’re paying that much for instant coffee at Starbucks, then chances are you’d just as likely drop $10 buck for coffee beans to grind.

The people who are buying instant coffee, like Folgers for $2.95 a bottle, aren’t going to drop $10 for Starbucks instant coffee regardless of the taste.

Starbucks’ claim that Via tastes just as good as brewed coffee will be put to the test soon enough. Coffee guru Andrew Hetzel, who owns a coffee consultancy called Cafemakers, is skeptical.

“I have an expectation of what it will be like, and I think it will be harmful for the brand,” he says. “They’re really looking to generate revenue in the short term to meet the expectations of investors.”

Instant coffee doesn’t jibe with the Starbucks brand, but it does represent a short-term solution to sagging profits and closing stores.  But it’s not a good solution to the Seattle coffee company’s woes.

There’s no shortage of ideas on Web sites such as or the snarkier, a popular rumor site for tipsters and baristas. Suggestions range from free Wi-Fi to the buzzed-about 8 oz. coffee for $1, which has already gone through trial runs but has yet to be institutionalized.

Dollar coffee makes more sense than instant coffee.  Another suggestion is to start franchising the brand and see what individual owners could do by creating a unique Starbuck’s experience.

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