Starbucks Going National With Via Instant Coffee

After 20 years of development work, and six months of test-marketing in Chicago and Seattle, Starbucks is taking its Via instant coffee national today. Will coffee snobs be willing to pay $1 a serving for a drink that Consumer Reports recently called “good, not great?”

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz calls Via the “biggest investment we’ve made in a national launch,” and the company sees the product as a chance to grab a piece of the $21 billion instant coffee market, though, in typical Starbucks fashion, the CEO insists Via is a unique category unto itself. According to Reuters:

Schultz said that due to the higher quality of Via, it would not compete with existing instant coffee products. He added that Via did not cannibalize Starbucks main business in markets where it was tested.

“This is not your grandmother’s instant coffee,” Schultz said. “The quality of Starbucks Via is a mirror image of the quality and taste of Starbucks brewed coffee.”

However, in tests conducted this summer, Consumer Reports found that Via didn’t quite live up to that 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.

Starbucks Debuts Via Instant Coffee In U.S., Canada [NYTimes.com]
We compare coffee: New brews McCafe and Starbucks instant [Consumer Reports]