In today’s economy, restaurants that have long catered to a moneyed clientele have been forced to reconsider their image—or at least play down their price. Some restaurants have dropped their prix fixe policies in favor of wallet-friendly á la carte options; even high-end restaurants have introduced specials, price cuts, and freebies as diner incentives.
But chain restaurants are also feeling the pinch, starting with one of the most ubiquitous—Starbucks. While hardly a luxury brand, the company that introduced Americans to $5 espresso drinks has positioned itself as a higher-end alternative to standard office-brew coffee. Given the recent recession, however, customers have been cutting back on their venti extra-shot cappuccino habits, leaving Starbucks in the lurch.
Their solution? Instant coffee. As caffeine addicts cut back, they turn increasingly to at-home options; according to CNN Money
, more than 75% of coffee is still consumed in the house, but Starbucks pulls in less than 4% of that market. So starting on March 3rd, Starbucks is rolling out its new VIA brand of powdered coffee
—in tiny packets that retail for less than a dollar each.. Forgoing the “instant” label for terms like “soluble coffee” or “ready-brew,” Starbucks stores will be selling three-packs of their Columbian and Italian Roast packets for $2.95—no barista necessary.
While many turn up their noses at instant coffee, even more so in America than elsewhere around the world, Starbucks’ instant has gotten initial positive reviews. (In fact, participants in Fast Company
’s blind taste test preferred both instant options
to Starbucks’ regular coffee.)
But what does this mean for Starbucks? On the one hand, the coffee giant might be positioning itself perfectly for our inevitable turn to less pricey products. On the other hand, however, Starbucks has long prided itself on its high-end status—which cheaper coffee options and concessions to the times might start to threaten. Where to bend to customer preference, and where to maintain brand integrity? These days, it’s a familiar dilemma for restaurants and chains alike.