Starbucks could be onto a corker of an idea

In the past I’ve been pretty scathing of some of café giant Starbucks’ strategic choices.

They under-estimated the sophistication of the Australian coffee market, leading to large numbers of store closures.

They have since embarked upon a pretty risky expansion into the instant coffee market, that I have argued could be cannibalisation.

But, their latest move I can see a lot of merit in.

According to this story, Starbucks is experimenting with offering wine, boutique beer and hors d’oeuvres in their cafés:

“After 4 p.m., customers will be able to order wine chosen from Pacific Northwest vineyards …and local craft brews with prices … only slightly more than a Venti specialty coffee. Appetizer inspired platters ranging from Mediterranean plates to artisan cheese plates (brie, Gouda, cheddar, almonds) and Italian selections (prosciutto, mixed olives whole wheat crackers)…will be brought to your table.”

This has only been rolled out in one store thus far, but it seems a logical and complementary fit.

starbucks now selling wine beerIt addresses a particular weak spot in their retail model – that fewer people want coffees late in the day, and thus the firm’s valuable real-estate is underutilised at a time when many shoppers are still out and about.

It also plays to the firm’s strength as a provider of  a ‘third space’ where customers feel at home. Wine and beer are clear complementary products that appeal to some of the same customers, and in group situations, will bring in some new patrons also.

The interesting challenge/opportunity for the firm, is build some sense of community and excitement around the wines and beers on offer. The focus on local producers is logical and a nice way to overcome some of the growing distrust around their ‘big business’ status (e.g. in Australia). Such a buying policy also aligns well with the fair-trade coffee approach (smaller local beer and wine labels will have lower food miles and are more likely to offer organic fare also).

Exciting  also is the prospect that some brewers and wineries might be able to substantially boost sales through signing on as suppliers to what in many locales is a vase network of stores.

Much is made of Starbucks ‘education’ of US palates – perhaps wine and beer will be next…

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