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Starbucks’ Cascara Latte: What Does It Mean For Specialty?

Mar 17, 2020

Starbucks are looking to the specialty industry for inspiration once more. The newest addition to their menu is a cascara latte: a regular latte but with cascara syrup and a garnish of sugary cascara extract sprinkled on top.


They’ve been adopting third wave products and terminology for a while now: cold brewnitro“small batch”Starbucks Reserve coffees, pour over devices…

This movement is good news for us – but it also poses a challenge.

coffee machine

Starbucks’ cascara latte. Credit: Starbucks

Why Is Starbucks Looking to Specialty?

Starbucks’ brand was always based on offering high-quality coffee. When they first launched, they were revolutionary. But over time, they haven’t kept up with the latest trends for high-quality coffee. They haven’t needed to: they’re the biggest coffee shop chain in the world, with over 25,000 cafes.

Recently, however, Starbucks struggled to crack Australia, closing 75% of their stores in two years (by Vice’s calculations). And, as millennials look to small coffee shops and the third wave, the brand is searching for new ways to appeal to this demographic.

So how should we react?

manufacturers

Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Credit: Rob Bertholf via FlickrCC BY 2.0

The Good & The Bad of a “Specialty” Starbucks

You see those quotation marks around “specialty”? Starbucks might not be specialty by everyone’s definition, but to a commodity consumer they’re sure going to seem specialty.

Starbucks are incorporating third wave trends into their menu in a way that isn’t intimidating to casual coffee drinkers. And a consumer who has decided they like small-batch roasts (Starbucks Reserve), and has has their curiosity piqued about what coffee actually is (thanks to a cascara latte), is going to be easier to convert.

Picture the conversation: “I’m sorry, we don’t have a cascara latte, but we do have cascara tea. Or our espresso offering has the sweet notes you might expect from a Starbucks cascara latte, and comes from…” Or: “Yes, we do offer Yirgacheffe, just like Starbucks. But you’ll find ours is a lighter roast. This brings out the floral notes.”

On the other hand, differentiating ourselves – one of the keys to strong marketing – as an industry is going to become more difficult. Because Starbucks, with its ubiquity, is always going to be the easy option for consumers. And if they can’t tell the difference between your cafe and Starbucks, why would they go to yours?