The Wall Street Journal has a quick rundown of Starbucks’s newish effort to expand its offerings to include wine and tasting plates, in a subtly-named initiative called “Starbucks Evenings.” I’m not sure whether or not this effort will pan out, but I suspect that it will see modest success. In my entirely informal polling, many coffee drinkers are also wine drinkers, and I think the strategy is a means to get people into Starbucks outlets after 5pm.
Either way, it’s hard not to admire Howard Schultz’s ambition. Considering that Starbucks has, within the last three years, entered the tea market (through its acquisitions of Teavana and Tazo), the juice market (Evolution Fresh), and baked goods (La Boulange), it’s clear that the firm is expanding laterally, broadening its base of beverage drinkers. At the same time, Starbucks is also moving vertically, seeking to capture value beyond just in-store drinks: within the last three years it’s rolled out the Starbucks Reserve subscription program, Via packets, K-Cups, and bottled ice coffee — all for at-home consumption.
I think that the addition of wine to Starbucks’s menu represents the firm’s desire to to reposition itself as coffeehouse/communal meeting space, no matter the beverage. There is a limited amount of coffee that Starbucks can sell, and limited time (read: morning), in which to sell it. And relatively few consumers are venturing out at eight pm for an evening of cappuccinos or fresh juices. Wine preserves Starbucks’s upscale vibe, while also separating it from other coffee and food purveyors like Dunkin’ Donuts, Coffee Bean, and McDonalds.
To that end, Starbucks’s store layouts are already somewhat wine-bar friendly: low-hanging incandescent bulbs with glowing visible filaments illuminate wooden tables and leather seats. Norah Jones and Mumford & Sons play quietly over the speakers. It could almost – almost – be that place you didn’t bring your laptop to write an article over an espresso at 7am this morning. And perhaps Starbucks’s challenge lies in altering that vibe of its stores – the lines, the lights, and the music – to more fully fit the relaxed, decaffeinated environment wine-drinking requires.
But drinks with unpronounceable names? You can bet those are still on the menu.