Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Most of You Like Weak Coffee or Starbucks is Wrong

Starbucks recently released a new line of coffee Pike Place roast. As this Wall Street journal article describes the new line is weak and is upsetting many loyal customers who wanted bold strong coffee.

This article made me think of a Malcolm Gladwell TED talk. In the talk which you can watch below he describes a great breakthrough in the canned spaghetti sauce industry. When a food scientist was hired to create the perfect spaghetti sauce he found when he tested three varieties which differed on thickness that about 1/3 of people preferred each type. His great revelation was, why not make 3 different types of spaghetti sauces? The new line of differing spaghetti sauces increased sales and customer satisfaction.

Relating back to Starbucks, Gladwell also talks at the very end briefly about how the same division can be made for coffee. By offering different types of coffee, Gladwell citing the same food sciencetist says that satisfaction for coffee can greatly increase. So why not follow Gladwell’s example and serve a couple of types of coffee one weak and one bold. Actually Starbucks does this for part of the day brewing a dark roast and Pike Place roast during the morning. But, in the afternoon they serve only the weak Pike Place roast. There must not be enough bold coffee drinkers, or bold coffee drinkers like weak coffee more than weak coffee drinkers like bold coffee.

Starbucks seems to be bucking the trend toward increasing choice discussed by Gladwell. This must mean that offering more variety of coffee increases costs, likely resulting from unused brewed coffee. So either Starbucks is wrong about most people’s preference for weak coffee or decreasing variety and sales might lead to more profits by lowering the cost of offering variety.

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