Starbucks’ VIA Instant Coffee: A Potential Hit?

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Starbucks is releasing its new VIA instant coffee today. Starbucks has executed one of its biggest advertising campaigns ever to promote VIA. The Seattle Times describes the campaign:

Starbucks has already put lots of time and money into its promotion of VIA here in Seattle, with a pep rally that included the Husky Marching Band, a cocktail mix-off and a nationwide road trip promoting the instant brew on Twitter and YouTube.

VIA is a project that has been 20 years in the making for Starbucks with the hopes of competing in the $21 billion instant coffee market. London, for example, drinks 80 percent instant coffee.

In recent months, Nescafe has released ads throughout Seattle claiming it has perfected what Starbucks is just now discovering. But Schultz said on Thursday that although instant coffee is a tough market to tap into, there hasn’t been “any innovation in 50 years.”

Though it will be released in varying stores, ranging from its current availability in Target and Costco to REI, Barnes & Nobles and Office Depot.

Entering the instant coffee market is a good idea for Starbucks, especially if VIA tastes better than Nescafe–err, other products. Going international with VIA could be a gold mine.

Consumerist, however, points out that VIA might not meet American taste or price standards:


…in tests conducted this summer, Consumer Reports found that Via didn’t quite live up to (its taste) promise:

The Starbucks instant and brewed coffees are similar in quality, but that quality is good, not great. The brewed coffees have the bitterness and darker roast we’ve found in previous tests of Starbucks Colombian; Via instant has more subdued flavors, is not as bitter, and has a slight cereal taste. … Via is OK, but if you love the signature bitterness and darker-roast character of brewed Starbucks, you might not love it.

We’ll reserve judgment until we try it ourselves. But at $1 a serving, vs. about 20 cents for instant Nescafe — or $1 for fresh-brewed coffee from the corner deli — we will have to love it if we’re going to give it more than just a try.

If VIA tastes better than Nescafe, and is sourced from better ingredients, I think it will have a market niche, even at a higher price. That niche just might not be in the States. I vote in favor of Starbucks on this particular product gamble. What do you think?