Is Starbucks Instant Coffee a Good Idea?

Hear ye, mobile caffeine addicts of the world: Starbucks now sells instant coffee. It's called Via, and Starbucks thinks it could "change the way people drink coffee." Instant coffee represents about 40 percent of the global coffee market, CEO Howard Schultz said, and "Starbucks is uniquely positioned to capture a significant share of this market." Wait, didn't we just hear them shrugging off McDonald's competition by saying Starbucks is for people who care about good coffee? For a pseudo-Euro cafe with faux-Francaise decorating, that seems a touch...déclassé.


Starbucks says Via has been in the pipeline for years, but the timing is remarkably responsive to McDonald's fast and furious push into the coffee business. As the Golden Arches' profits rises, Starbuck's stock has fallen, posting negative sales for more than a year. In June, I predicted that Starbucks would continue to outpace McDonald's among latte drinkers. But Starbucks is going in the opposite direction now, catering to the broader coffee audience who isn't looking to pay more than a buck for its brew.

But this isn't as revolutionary a down-market move as people think. Little Starbucks shake-em-up lattes are available in 7-Elevens across the country. They even make (utterly undrinkable) energy drinks, which, if Starbucks were as Euro as it pretends, would be like a Paris bistro serving  a Hardee's breakfast biscuit. Starbucks Via, which will be sold in three cup-sized packs for $2.95 or $9.95 for a 12, is teaming with United Airlines and Marriott hotels, and I see its initial success with the on-the-go crowd that would prefer to drink instant coffee with a brand it recognizes. In that sense, this is a pretty obvious move even if doesn't "change the way people drink coffee."

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Business

Just In