Can We Even Call Starbucks a Coffee Shop Anymore?

The chain is betting its future success on growing its menu—and smoothies are the latest addition.
(Photo: Starbucks)
Jun 26, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Starbucks is test-marketing yet another product—hey, is that even news? As Eater reports, the coffee giant is bringing Greek yogurt and cold-pressed juices to its menu in one double-trend-packing form: A lineup of three smoothies. The Strawberry, Mango-Carrot, and veggie-centric Sweet Greens smoothies, made with Dannon Greek yogurt and cold-pressed juices from Evolution Fresh, will be available at select Starbucks in San Jose, Calif., and St. Louis, Mo., but an optimistic company press release says the smoothies “are expected to launch in all Starbucks markets next year.”

Remember the days when Starbucks was all about cappuccinos and not a whole lot more? We’ve come a long way—and some say perhaps too far.

Admittedly, it’s unlikely that Starbucks is going to be brought down by three smoothies, but there is grumbling afoot that the chain that became wildly successful by bringing $5 coffee to just about every street corner and airport terminal in America might be venturing into troubled waters.

Not that Starbucks execs seem worried. At the company’s annual meeting in March, CEO Howard Schultz wowed Wall Street with an audacious vision to double Starbucks’ market cap to $100 billion, and because the chain has consistently pulled off solid growth year over year and sent its stock price soaring, who’s to doubt him?

There’s just one problem: product overload. Starbucks nailed coffee, but can it nail smoothies...and grilled sandwiches…and tea…and craft sodas…and beer and wine…and “tapas-like” evening fare?

Yep, despite a dizzying assortment of lattes, cappuccinos, iced mochas, macchiatos, and a bevy of seasonal specialty drinks, Starbucks seems to be coming off its caffeine buzz to realize there’s only so much you can do with coffee. The biggest growth potential, as the company’s top brass has essentially admitted, lies in increasing food options (like those grilled cheese sandwiches) and wooing customers during what have traditionally been off hours for the chain (e.g., serving things like beer and bacon-wrapped dates at night).

But Starbucks doesn’t have to look much further than the troubled rollout of its La Boulange line of pastries to see that everything it touches doesn’t automatically turn into investor dividends. Sure, the big story may have been the customer revolt that pushed Starbucks to bring back some popular items from its old menu, like those loaf cakes. But as Business Insider reported in December, just requiring that the new pastries be served hot seemed to throw a wrench into the works behind the counter, prompting baristas to complain that the new system increased the chances of getting orders wrong while discouraging interaction with customers.

“The relationships with customers have sort of disappeared,” one former barista lamented. “It has become more important that we do things the ‘right way’ while also being really fast.”

Starbucks may pride itself on being the anti-McDonald’s—a behemoth brand whose double-tailed mermaid logo seems just about as ubiquitous as Ronald McDonald while maintaining a corporate ethos that still cares about, say, environmental sustainability and employees’ education. Yet in its insatiable drive for market domination, Starbucks may still have a thing or two to learn from the Golden Arches.

“No company can be all things to all people,” writes Ted Cooper over at The Motley Fool. He’s talking about Starbucks, but he could very well have been discussing McDonald’s, a company that appears to be risking open warfare with its customers and franchisees after piling on ever more menu items, from an expanded line of Quarter Pounders to a bunch of SnackWraps. McDonald’s menu swelled by 70 percent from 2007 to 2013, topping out at 145 items. Although the fast-food giant has made an effort to pull back, it’s still not culled enough, according to some irate McDonald’s franchise owners.

“Our menu is a disaster for both employees and the customer,” one franchisee complained in a recent survey, Business Insider reported. “It has killed our speed of service.”

“The McDonald’s operation was built on simplicity and efficiency, and that no longer applies to a McDonald’s kitchen,” said another former franchisee turned franchise consultant. “The expanding menu is one of the reasons McDonald’s sales have flattened out domestically.”

Something to think about the next time all you want is a soy latte, but the guy ahead of you is ordering a grilled Turkey Pesto Panini and a warm Wheat Spinach Savory Square with a Sweet Greens smoothie on the side.