The Starbucks Wine Experience

Woman with red wine tablet and laptop in street cafeI’m a Starbucks guy. They should put me in their commercials. I have a gold card, I use the Starbucks stores as my “third place,” and I even buy Starbucks ornaments for my Christmas tree.

Starbucks transcends its core product (coffee). It’s about a brand. Even though I know this from my schooling in marketing and management, I buy into it. Fully. (If you’re also a long-time Starbucks fan, do you miss their music sampler CDs as much as I do? They were extremely well curated and introduced me to a number of singers and bands I now count among my favorites.)

Now, after several years of testing in a number of markets, Starbucks is introducing the sale of wine during the early evening and nighttime hours at more and more stores. Earlier this year, according to a report in USA Today, the company submitted several hundred new applications for liquor licenses.

Starbucks was largely a morning business until it introduced blended Frappuccino beverages. That helped revenues during the afternoon hours. Now, the company hopes wine will help keep its stores humming into the night.

The key word is “humming” — not singing loudly or yelling, as you might encounter in other environments where alcohol is served.

“There aren’t very many places you can go in the evening where you can go very relaxed, very casual,” Rachel Antalek, Starbucks’ Vice President of New Product Innovation, told USA Today. “It’s not loud. You can actually have a small group and hear yourself talk.”

Obviously, this is not just about wine. It’s about business. The company is projecting that, by 2019, its “Evenings” concept — which incorporates wine, beer and “small plates” sales — will generate $1 billion in additional revenue.

One of my local Starbucks introduced “Evenings” several years ago, and I was among the first to “test” it. The food was tasty, and the wine was served in stemless glassware to help prevent spills and breakage. As for the “wine list,” it was small but well selected. Any wine lover would know the names and where to find them, but in a program that could become huge, Starbucks needed dependable sources.

Now that Starbucks is introducing wine to even more stores, will I find myself there morning, noon and night? No. But it’s nice to know I can visit my favorite coffee house at night, order something other than decaf, and still be able to get a good night’s sleep.

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