Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Starbucks, coffee shops see collateral benefit from Black Friday

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STARBUXBlack Friday bargain hunting is a marathon, requiring a shopper to be alert and aggressive to outmaneuver rivals for that last $200 LCD TV at Target. But with so many retailers opening their doors at midnight, why bother going to sleep? Even if you shopped at Kohl’s, which opened at 3 am or J.C. Penney, at 4 am, you were in for very short night for most.

So bleary-eyed shoppers turned out in drove at U.S. malls on Friday, with lines at coffee shops among the longest.

Mall operator Macerich said on Friday that the Starbucks at its Tysons Corner Center in suburban Washington had lines 30 people deep at 11 a.m. At the Newport Center mall in Jersey City, exhausted shoppers could be seen forming a line of 20 to get much needed java.

After all, no one wants to be caught unawares when cashmere sweaters for 50 percent off are at stake.

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 Reuters.com, 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.

Starbucks adds spice to Via

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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.

Why Carl’s Jr is happier in L.A.

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carlshappyHere’s another reason to love L.A.

The city’s downtown business district is home to the only Carl’s Jr restaurants that serve beer.

“We market to the young, hungry male. He’s also thirsty,” said Julie McLean, a spokeswoman for the chain, which has used controversial celebrities like Paris Hilton to push its generously-portioned, indulgent hamburgers.

Starbucks drive thru menu getting makeover

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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.

Starbucks testing green coffee drinks

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refreshersStarbucks will begin testing summer drinks with a base of green, unroasted coffee in San Diego today as it works on new products to drive sales and put more distance between itself and rivals like McDonald’s — which is rolling out the kinds of drinks that Starbucks built its business on.

The drinks, called “Refreshers,” will be offered in cool lime and very berry hibiscus flavors. They are made with fruit and are low in calories and caffeine, said Julie Felss Masino, Starbucks’ vice president of global beverage. 

Diners say Olive Garden, Papa John’s are tops

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papajohnsPapa John’s and Olive Garden got top marks in their respective restaurant categories in the University of Michigan’s 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index, while McDonald’s and Chili’s Grill & Bar were laggards.

Papa John’s took the lead in the limited-service category from Domino’s Pizza. Notably, this year’s win for Papa John’s came as Domino’s was getting a sales bump from its reformulated pizza recipe and crowing about how its new pies were beating rivals in taste tests. 

Check Out Line: Taking on Starbucks paying off for McDonald’s

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RonaldMcDonaldCheck out how the McCafe keeps perking up McDonald’s sales.

Last month, Ronald McDonald and company reported a strong first-quarter profit, showing that their bet on taking on Starbucks on its home turf has paid off.  And judging from McDonald’s April sales, that McCafe business — with its expanded lower-priced roster of coffees and new frappes — continues to caffeinate its results.

In April, sales at restaurants open at least 13 months (same-store sales, in the industry’s shorthand) were up 3.8 percent stateside, and did even better overseas, for a global average of 4.9 percent.

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

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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

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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)

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