Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ignoring the Obvious

I should have known this. Starbucks sells its coffee everywhere- seriously, this stuff has infiltrated just about every settlement in America (and is working abroad) with over 20K people. Retail stores line our interstates and fill our bookstores. Starbucks will even sell their coffee through stores that are not Starbucks (another obvious statement). The three local HyVees (regional grocery store), Patricia's (local grocer), three Walmarts, and numerous no-name coffee stops all sell this larger-than-life "specialty" coffee brand. Brand is exactly what it is.

By force of brand, Starbucks has produced an instant coffee called "Via," which is touted as being exactly the same as Starbucks' whole bean flagship product.

Can this claim even possibly be true? Well, no.

After reading the Coffee Review's article regarding Via, I felt compelled to forward the information; I felt the need to share one point in particular.  It is not often that I read something about the coffee industry that is simply brand new to me. When discussing large companies and their practices in marketing, the phenomenon of finding something new is even more rare. Today it has happened while reading the Coffee Review's article:
Unfortunately, [none of Starbucks' touted instant-coffee] innovation appeared to help much in significantly differentiating the Starbucks VIA products from the best of the competing instants... these Starbucks offerings and the instant VIA versions is, of course, plainly mistaken.
This claim must be a great if secret embarrassment for many of the dedicated coffee professionals at Starbucks. Perhaps the marketing people put something in Howard Schultz’s drink. Naturally we purchased whole-bean versions of the Starbucks Colombia and Italian Roast and tested them against the VIA versions. Whole bean Colombia 84; VIA Colombia 78. Whole bean Italian Roast 80, VIA Italian Roast 68. Ratings aside, the blunt sensory differences between the VIA instants and their whole-bean counterparts were inescapable. We used supermarket versions of the whole bean Colombia and Italian Roast for our comparisons, by the way. Coffees sold at Starbucks stores are usually produced from higher quality green beans and could stand out even more dramatically compared to their VIA counterparts. (my emphasis added)

It was this last line that really took me aback. I should have known this! Of course the best coffees are reserved from Starbucks' own stores! This, if noticed by the average consumer, would drive the buyer directly to the retail outlet to buy their coffee, which in turn, would provide Starbucks Corp. with a greater slice of the profits. This is because when Starbucks sells its coffee bulk to grocers and the like, they must sell at wholesale discount- this allows for the middle-man company to profit in selling the outside product. Duh!

What I think is the saddest part of this story is that over the years, I have not been able to distinguish the "good" Starbucks coffee via its retail stores from the "less-good" Starbucks coffee via third-party outlets. Again, the statement that even the best of Starbucks is usually mediocre is obvious.

It seems like I rant and bash Starbucks quite a bit. I do. It is important to point out the beginning of the Coffee Review's article:
              Snobs are people who make judgments for non-intrinsic reasons. Like brands for example (Starbucks is great, Starbucks sucks), or market ideologies (corporate coffee is bad, coffee from tiny stores with a roaster in the back are good), or on the basis of various other untested assumptions. We try to be anti-snob at Coffee Review by tasting coffees blind and honestly reporting on our findings, even when the findings run counter to assumptions among some of our readers or preferences of long-time drinkers of certain kinds of coffee. We may not be right, of course, because last I checked there is no god certifying cupping results, but we’re honest and try to be transparent.

I like this point of view. Honestly, I just have not had a cup of coffee from Starbucks that has been any good. Seriously, I cannot point to a time when I have been truly pleased. This is why I have an intrinsic disdain for their coffee. The ball is in their court, I suppose.

Lord, help me. Deliver me from snobbish behavior and mindsets, not just in regard to coffee, but in all areas of my life. Help me to be all things to all men so that I might save some. Keep my head deflated and on straight.

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