Starbucks unveils blonde roast coffee

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Starbucks is going blonde.

The coffee company known for its dark-roasted beans unveiled its lighter blend “Starbucks Blonde Roast” Tuesday, as it tries to reach a wider base of consumers.

Starbucks has long faced criticism from people who think its coffee is too dark or bitter. The company said it developed the new roast for the large number of U.S. consumers who prefer a lighter-tasting coffee.

“We recognized the unmet consumer need for a super-premium light roast coffee, and our coffee developers went to work to craft a great-tasting, quality lighter roast coffee we are proud to stand behind,” Cliff Burrows, president of the Americas for Starbucks said in a statement. “This is a significant opportunity for Starbucks to gain a greater share of the brewed coffee market — both in our stores and down the coffee aisle.”

The company, citing Nielsen research, said that more than 40 percent of U.S. coffee drinkers prefer a lighter-roast coffee. The new product represents a major market opportunity for Starbucks too, as more than 70 percent of total premium coffee sales in grocery stores are of light and medium roast coffee.

Consumers who don’t favor the company’s dark tastes have mockingly called the company “Charbucks” for its darker taste profile, like Joe Cook, an evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Okla.

“I like their concept but I’m not a fan of their coffee product,” Cook said. “I like my coffee to be robust...but that acidic bitterness that is directly connected to their over-roasting of the beans in my opinion.”

Kristen Clough, of Rochester, N.Y., says Starbucks coffee is “undrinkable” and that none of her family likes it. She found Starbucks iced coffee sometimes tasted okay, but the last two times she has had it, it was too bitter.

“I’m over Starbucks,” she said. “I’m certainly not going to spend $2.54 on a medium iced coffee that goes down the drain.”

Starbucks was established with a dedication to bold coffee and stood by its dark-roasted roots for some time. But the company has been adapting more to consumer’s desires as it faced increased competition from McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, which offer milder and lower-priced options. The company added a lighter Pike Place blend in its stores in 2008 as one of its daily brews and emphasizes its low everyday price.

The company said it went through 80 different roasting recipes before finding its blonde roast. Starbucks will begin selling and brewing the new roast in stores in January.

It will be sold under the “Verana Blend” or “Willow Blend” names for $11.95 or $12.95 respectively for a bag of whole bean coffee, comparable with its other products.

Starbucks also said Tuesday that it will try to help consumers differentiate between the various roasts in stores, organizing its coffee in stores by three rankings: blonde, medium and dark.

The company took a similar approach with its Seattle’s Best Coffee brand last year, offering that coffee in a range of categories ranked from one to five based on intensity of flavor. The coffee comes in brightly colored bags with the ranking prominently displayed to help draw customers who might be overwhelmed by the array of choices that now fill the coffee aisle.

Starbucks said the average consumer spends about 60 seconds in the coffee aisle to make a purchasing decision, based on taste and intensity. And it’s part of the company’s heavier push into grocery stores and retailers to capture more of the at-home coffee drinking market.

Starbucks is the world’s largest coffee company, with roughly 17,000 stores worldwide and products in retailers across the country.

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