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Instant Starbucks coffee—isn’t that an oxymoron? Not if the coffee giant can introduce its latest product properly.

Caffeine addicts worldwide know to look for the distinctive mermaid logo when they need their own personalized version of the beverage. But the internationally weak economy also has consumers seeking cheaper alternatives. In response, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz hopes to take on the domain of Nescafe and give Starbucks’ customers a new means to satisfy their cravings.

Portable and less expensive, the new Via instant coffee packets work to appeal to a broader market that either cannot or will not pay premium prices for a cup of coffee. First available for tasting in Starbucks’ outlets, Via will soon start appearing in such seemingly unlikely locales as Office Depot, REI, Target, and even Costco, as well as on United Airlines domestic flights. Ultimately, Starbucks plans rollouts into traditional grocery stores, where Via will compete directly with traditional instant coffees such as Nescafe’s Tasters’ Choice.

Nescafe, in anticipation of this move, has already begun airing attack ads. This preemptive strategy may be the best illustration of Via’s massive potential in this new marketplace. Howard Schultz must get a sense of pride when the market leader thinks it cannot afford to ignore a new competitor.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think Starbucks’ regular clientele will be willing to try Via?
  2. What impact will Via have on other Starbucks products?

Julie Jargon, “Starbucks Takes New Road with Instant Coffee,” The Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2009.