Case Study - Starbucks Blonde Roast Coffee

Three Million Customers Participate in Coffee Tasting

Starbucks Blonde Roast Popularity Grows
Starbucks Customers Enjoy the Special Attributes of Blonde Roast Coffee. Getty Images | Caiaimages

Why Did Starbucks® Decide to "Go Blonde?"

Starbucks® has announced a product launch of a lighter roasted coffee which is intriguingly called "Blonde." Starbucks has been known for its robust, dark roasted coffee since the beginnings of the company. Howard Schultz early on was influenced by the robust flavor of Italian coffee and his research helped to forward the development of the excellent Italian Roast Starbucks brand.

But coffee lovers are a varied lot, so coffee development at Starbucks has incorporated many changes to ensure that every taste can be accommodated by a type of Starbucks coffee.

With over 40 years of experience in sourcing coffee, roasting coffee, and blending coffee, Starbucks was well positioned to develop a quality coffee with the great taste that Starbucks customers have come to expect. In what has been called "an artful collaboration," experts from Starbucks roasters team and Starbucks quality team developed the Blonde Roast coffee to compliment the medium and dark versions of Starbucks coffee. Now there is a flavor intensity for every type of coffee aficionado.

Starbucks Insiders Tell All About "Going Blonde"

In his telling in a press release, Brad Anderson, master roaster for Starbucks,

"It took eight months and more than 80 different recipe and roast iterations before we landed on the exact flavor profile our customers told us they were looking for. They told us they wanted a flavorful, lighter bodied coffee that offers a milder taste and a gentle finish Starbucks® Blonde Roast delivers." 

Many coffee critics complain about the strong "burned" taste of Starbucks French roast coffee, which is the darkest roast and provides a bold coffee taste.  Jeff Hansberry, president of Channel Development for Starbucks said in a press release that:

"Starbucks® Blonde Roast is our answer to providing a premium lighter roast coffee to appeal to those who describe Starbucks® signature roast as too intense. This new roast profile will allow us to increase our share of the brewed coffee market down the grocery aisle where a majority of coffee sales are in the light and medium roast categories. This segment of the market represents a $1 billion opportunity for the company in the U.S. alone."

Why Are the Starbucks Bags of Whole Beans Different Sizes?

Each of the whole beans from the three coffee roasts offered by Starbucks comes in a one pound bag, but the bags are different sizes. Here's why:

  • The changes in the whole coffee beans is a result of the intense heat that roasting coffee requires.
  • The heat causes the release of caffeol, which is the coffee oil that makes the dark roasted beans shiny.
  • A chemical reaction is triggered by the heat that causes the starches in the coffee beans to turn to sugars.
  • The roasting process takes water from the beans, so the longer process of the darker roast produces a smaller bean.
  • More beans are needed to make a one pound bag of coffee beans for the dark roast, and a medium size bag is needed for the medium roast.
  • The new Blonde Roast requires the smallest bag as the beans have been more lightly roasted than the other two coffee types.

Market research has shown that shoppers spend about 60 seconds making a decision about what coffee to buy while standing in the coffee aisle. Market research has also shown that about 25 percent of the shoppers who have been shopping for coffee leave the coffee aisle without making a coffee purchase.

Shoppers who abandon their search for coffee give these reasons:

  • They are unable to make a decision because the premium coffee section of their grocery store doesn't make sense to them.
  • They are not able to find the coffee they are looking for at the time.
  • They find the large selection of coffee types and coffee brands confusing.

Once customers find these bags of coffee in the store aisle and are satisfied that they all contain one pound of coffee, they will find that the packaging will help them to find the coffee type that they seek when shopping. Starbucks' new system for packing coffees by roast type will be a boon to those coffee shoppers.  Coffee bean bag size can signal the type of roast and the taste qualities of coffees. Now consumers have Blonde RoastTM.

The Blonde Roast coffee comes in three different selections: Starbucks® Verdanda BlendTM, Starbucks® Willow BlendTM, Starbucks® Aria, Starbucks® Bright Sky, and Starbucks® Decaf Willow BlendTM.