A Starbucks worker served Via Ready Brew to analysts, reporters and retailers Tuesday in New York as the chief executive, Howard Schultz, declared, “This is not your mother’s instant coffee.”  photo from NY Times

A Starbucks worker served Via Ready Brew to analysts, reporters and retailers Tuesday in New York. Photo from NY Times

Claire Cain Miller writes in the NY Times that in Howard Schultz’s 1997 book about developing Starbucks, he wrote, “Nothing pains me more than hearing critics compare Starbucks to a chain of discount stores or fast-food operations.”

Last Tuesday, the man who set out to improve Americans’ taste in coffee, unveiled instant coffee bearing the Starbucks brand. Packages of Via Ready Brew will appear in Starbucks shops in Seattle and Chicago on March 3, the same day that Starbucks will begin offering breakfast value meals in stores nationwide.

Selling instant coffee and serving value meals might sound more like the purview of an American convenience store and less like that of an Italian espresso bar. Water-soluble coffee is a gamble, marketing analysts said. It could lure customers who drink fast-food or grocery store coffee, or it could water down the Starbucks brand.

But Mr. Schultz said he was ready for the critics who say, “This is desperate, this is a Hail Mary pass, this is off-brand for Starbucks.”

“We are going to reinvent the company, reinvent the category,” he told a group of Wall Street analysts, journalists and retailers on Tuesday at a tasting of the new product in New York. “This is not your mother’s instant coffee.”

The instant coffee is available online at the company’s Web site in two varieties, Colombia and Italian Roast. Along with Seattle and Chicago Starbucks stores, Costco and Target will start selling it this spring. Starbucks will introduce it in its stores worldwide by the fall and it will be in grocery stores in 2010.

Read more in the NY Times

Also read “Just Add Water” from the Economist