The new initiatives launched by Starbucks Coffee, Seattle, balance the heritage and tradition of the Starbucks brand with innovation and a desire to be more locally relevant in markets around the world, says Howard Schultz, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks, during a media tour in April of Starbucks in Seattle.

Starbucks recognizes that its brand occupies a unique position, but that positioning is not something the brand is entitled to, Schultz says. The company is testing concept stores with various platforms that fit in with its Shared Planet pledge that each new store built in 2010 will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, says Lara Wyss, Starbucks’ director of global consumer public relations.

Starbucks also is expanding the availability of its Via Ready Brew coffee. Via is made with the same high-quality coffee beans as Starbucks coffee but uses a patent-pending technology to make an instant coffee that is of Starbucks quality, the company says.

Via launched last year in packages of three or eight sticks that at first were sold in Starbucks stores. The retail launch of Via in the United States and Canada was a highlight of Starbucks’ 2010 first quarter earnings, and recent second quarter results show Via to be an increasingly significant platform for the company, Wyss says.

In April, the company expanded distribution of Via Colombia, Italian Roast and Decaffeinated Italian Roast varieties to U.S. grocery outlets. Starbucks expects to have more than 30,000 points of Via distribution by the end of the third quarter, Wyss says. The company also made the product available internationally in its stores in the United Kingdom and Japan.

“We look forward to offering new form factors and other innovations on the Via platform in the very near term, as customers continue to discover that Starbucks quality coffee can be enjoyed anytime and anywhere, and as a result, they’ve become repeat purchases,” Wyss says.

This summer, the line will welcome a lightly sweetened Via Iced Coffee variety. Starbucks Via Iced Coffee is a blend of medium roast coffee made from 100 percent high-quality Arabica beans and sweetened with cane sugar. The product has 50 calories per 8-ounce serving and will be available later this month in all U.S. and Canada company-operated and licensed stores as well as online at

Starbucks also introduced three concept stores in its hometown of Seattle as well as one in London and one at Disneyland Paris. The Starbucks store near Seattle’s Pike Place Market recently was redesigned as part of its heritage concept theme. The store, which is a popular tourist destination, is LEED certified and features a variety of recycled and reused materials as part of its décor. Throughout the store, metal emblems tell the history of reused materials, such as the large weathered wood community table.

The company also is testing two coffeehouse concepts inspired by their local neighborhoods, 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea and Roy Street Coffee & Tea concepts in Seattle. Both coffehouses are branded as “Inspired by Starbucks” and have features and décor that are not part of the typical Starbucks store. The stores are an expression of the Starbucks experience, Wyss says.

“They share Starbucks’ mission and values, are pioneered by Starbucks partners and offer Starbucks whole bean coffee and Tazo full-leaf tea, delivering the same high quality with the same heart in a new way,” Wyss says.

In addition to a made-to-order food menu, Roy Street Coffee & Tea conducts daily coffee and tea cuppings showcasing new varieties of Starbucks whole bean coffee and Tazo full-leaf tea that are not widely available, the company says. Roy Street also offers regional beer and wine selections and has multiple coffee brewing options, such as manual pour-over, press, Synesso, and Clover methods.

The one cup-at-a-time Clover brewing method is another innovation for Starbucks. Designed by a Seattle company, Coffee Equipment Co., Starbucks purchased the company and the rights to the Clover brewing system in 2008. Clover combines the methods of a coffee press and vacuum brewing technology in a single cup brewing machine designed to highlight a coffee’s layers, dimensions, aromas, flavors, body and acidity.

The company specifically chooses the coffees that are offered on Clover machines, which are in around 60 of its stores in the United States. The machine has specific time and temperature calibrations for each coffee, such as Aged Sumatra or Ethiopia Yeirgacheffe. Clover coffees are freshly ground and brewed upon an order. A cup of Clover-crafted coffee costs on average $0.40 more per cup than traditional drip coffee, the company says.

The new stores are testing the possibilities of the future direction of the Starbucks brand, Wyss says.

“We have a lot to learn from this new concept and having [Roy Street Coffee & Tea and 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea] right in our backyard while we incubate ideas and evaluate various concepts is beneficial,” she says. “This coffeehouse and other new stores serve as a learning lab for Starbucks, providing us with valuable learning as we evolve our broader store portfolio through new stores and refurbishments.” BI

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