The New Beerista

29 04 2012

As much as I love stretching myself into unknown marketing territories, sometimes I find that the more I look for new, the more I bump into the old.

Like the idea of extending one’s brand name into product categories in which the company has zero experience. Case in point: Starbucks and its foray into beer and wine.

SBUX has made a splendid recovery from its over-expansion, and has now gained valuable shelf space in supermarkets. It has line-extended itself successfully with Via, which is single-pack servings of instant coffee, and also opened its first juicery this year. So why not move into other liquid beverages?

I can see the temptation. SBUX figures it knows all things wet. But serving wine and beer is not the same as serving coffee. Or juice. First of all, there’s that nasty little technicality known as a liquor license. Oh, and never mind that SBUX outlets are often populated by young people in the evening, so I see a conflict with adult beverages and not-so-adult patrons in a common area. I also recognize that coffee is primarily a morning beverage, and beer and wine after work, so on paper it makes sense to try to get more people in during a time when overall coffee sales may be lower (not counting students cramming for tests).

But sometimes adding products simply because they are of the same general species does not always make good sense. Never mind that SBUX is trying valiantly to increase revenues, and better utilize facilities. The broader question is whether people will think of Starbucks when they want a beer or glass of wine after the theatre tonight.

And I think not.

Now I will be the first to admit that sometimes exceptions occur. McDonald’s all but invented fast-food breakfast when it dared deviate from hamburgers. But I can point to a slew of McFaux Pas as well…like the McSteak sandwich.

Wendy’s failed miserably with two separate chains under its corporate umbrella (which is a little safer in that it does not bring down the flagship, but is still costly). Sisters Fried Chicken was a crispy flop in the 80s, and Baja Fresh has struggled to hold a tortilla to Chipotle.

There really is a lot to be said for sticking to what one knows best. For the life of me, I can’t see SBUX succeeding with beer and wine, just like folks really didn’t dig their breakfast sandwiches either. Critics can argue that you can’t blame a guy for trying, but you can blame them for barking up the wrong beverage container. After all, coffee is their cup of tea.

Dr “Make Mine A Venti” Gerlich

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