Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Coffee’s third wave


intelligentsia1Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea founder Doug Zell is part of an independent third wave of upscale coffee houses taking advantage of America’s growing thirst for the premium coffees that Starbucks helped introduced to the masses. ( Click here to see today’s special report on Starbucks on, or read the report in PDF format.)

“It’s moving from a commodity to a culinary ingredient,” said Zell, whose buyers scour the globe for the best beans and increasingly are focused on treating coffee like a seasonal item — meaning the time from harvest to cup is no more than six months.

Coffee has come a long way in the last few decades. While our parents’ generation grew up on grocery store brands like Folgers or Sanka instant coffee, today’s kids are coming of age at a time when higher-quality espresso drinks like lattes are the norm.

“The consumer is becoming more sophisticated. I still think there is a long way to go,” said Zell, who recently opened Intelligentsia’s ninth location in Venice, California’s offbeat Abbot Kinney section. A tenth spot, which will be a cafe and roasting plant, is in the works in San Francisco.

Starbucks adds spice to Via


schultzviaStarbucks is expanding its Via instant coffee line this autumn with cinnamon spice, vanilla, mocha and caramel flavors.

The move comes on the heels of the Seattle company’s rollout of Natural Fusions, a line of flavored ground coffees, at U.S. grocery stores this summer.

Starbucks drive thru menu getting makeover


thissbuxStarbucks’ drive thru menus are getting a facelift — as the cafe chain takes a page from the fast-food industry’s playbook.

At the end of August, the menu boards at Starbucks’ 2,600-plus drive thrus in the United States and Canada will have more pictures and fewer words. Fast-food chains like McDonald’s, which has been going after the Seattle coffee company’s core business with espresso drinks, frappes and smoothies,  commonly use simple, photo-based menus to tempt diners.

Check Out Line: Bring a mug, get free Starbucks java, save the world


mugsCheck out how Starbucks is working to persuade you to help save the planet by using fewer of its iconic paper cups.

On Thursday the company, which hands out about 4.75 million cups a day, is giving away free coffee to everyone who brings in a reusable mug or travel tumbler.

So much Starbucks coffee to taste (250,000 cups), so little time


mcmartinThink you drink a lot of java? Think again.
Starbucks’ stable of 20 coffee tasters collectively sample 250,000 cups of coffee every year, Scott McMartin, Starbucks’ director of global coffee advocacy told Reuters during a recent visit to the cafe chain’s Seattle headquarters.
Those tasters — who sample the brews sold at Starbucks and the company’s Seattle’s Best Coffee brand — are based in Seattle, Switzerland and in farmer support centers in Costa Rica and Rwanda.
scott2McMartin, who spoke as he slurped a variety of coffees, says great tasters have a mix of natural skill and commitment to craft. (Tasters make a slurping sound as they practically inhale the hot brew — a process that mixes the  liquid with air to help the tongue detect different flavors. Then they swish and spit.) 
Top tasters, like athletes and artists, know that practice makes perfect, said McMartin, who is also a sommelier. 
“It’s a repetitive thing. Your tongue is a muscle,” he said
Starbucks tasters make copious notes and occasionally check that they are in sync with regard to what they’re tasting in the cup. The latter process helps Starbucks make sure there are no “rogue tasters” in the mix, McMartin said.

(Reuters photos)

Too much turkey to fell Americans: Dunkin’ Donuts


dunkindonuts1Heaps of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce will induce a collective food coma on Thanksgiving, sending a majority Americans to their beds for a much-needed nap, if one is to believe a survey released on Thursday by coffee and doughnut chain Dunkin’ Donuts.

About 58 percent of the 500 Americans Dunkin’ Donuts surveyed this week predicted they would succumb to sleep during the holiday next week, according to the chain. Overeating will do that to you.

Starbucks: Decaf Via coming soon


starbucks20via20ready20brewStarbucks says it will start selling a decaf version of its Via instant coffee in the United States on Nov 17.

The coffee chain, which in the middle of a corporate turnaround, hopes that Via will help it grab a big piece the $21 billion instant coffee market from established players like Nestle’s Nescafe and Kraft Foods Inc’s Sanka.

Thrifty tips from Starbucks


barista1In its battle to end the myth of the $4 Starbucks coffee — the world’s biggest cafe chain is offering tips on how to save money in its cafes, which are lowering prices on some beverages as they battle market newcomer McDonald’s.

Here are some tips from Susan Nodilo, manager of a popular Starbucks in West Hollywood.

Is your Starbucks saved from the hit list?


coronastarbucks3Starbucks Chief Financial Officer Troy Alstead earlier this week had some good news for its fans in places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Mobile, Alabama, and El Segundo, California.

Alstead said Starbucks removed 30 stores from its hit list of store closures, saying that each of the saved stores had improved profitability to a point where it made sense to keep them open.

On the front lines of the coffee war


mcdonaldsstarbucks2By Laura Isensee

On her way to work in downtown Los Angeles, banker Teresa Roman recently picked up a large iced vanilla coffee. Her cup had no green mermaid, the iconic Starbucks symbol. Instead, it displayed McDonald’s famed golden arches.

Roman switched from Starbucks iced coffee to McDonald’s when the fast-food giant started selling lattes, mochas and cappuccinos as part of its McCafe beverage expansion that launched officially earlier this year.