Starbucks Via: Smart Strategy or Brand Buster?

The new Starbucks Via instant coffee hit the shelves several months back, but recently seems to be popping up everywhere. Via appears to be Starbucks’ attempt to broaden their market in a time where many people may be cutting out their daily $3 latte habit. The instant coffee product boasts better taste and comes in at a slightly higher price point than it’s lower brow counterparts (think Sanka and Folger’s), but much less expensive than the in-store freshly brewed version.

Starbucks seems to be joining a growing trend in all caterories of recession-chic: the shifting idea that smart consumers can get a similar product for a much lower price, and can even boast about it to their friends. Marketers in the fashion and beauty worlds have been playing up this idea for quite some time now with recession-themed ads and made-up words aimed at women such as “recessionista” and “frugalista.” Starbucks has jumped on this trend with deviations from their premium philosophy such as value-menu style offerings and receipt discount coupons.

Overall, Starbucks has done a nice job of making the Via brand fit with their brand aesthetic. The new packaging is a nice extension of the brand with a clean, bold look and the upscale descriptor “ready brew” instead of the lower brow “instant coffee.” But if branding always starts with the product, will instant coffee be the right direction for a brand that has always been known for quality? Or will Via be a smart strategy for diversifying the company in a challenging climate?

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