Steve Monfort reports at NASDAQ that new instant coffee is outselling expectations and cost-cutting is helping the bottom line, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced at a conference in California.

The new instant coffee, Via, is offered at U.S. and Canadian Starbucks outlets and some other stores. A pack of three Via pouches costs $2.95. Schultz called Via “not just a new product, but a new growth platform for the company.”

Starbucks has yet to offer Via outside North America, but the market for instant coffee overseas is robust. Britons drink far more instant than brewed coffee, for example.

In the past two years, Starbucks bowed to competitive pressure and closed 900 stores, a bid to improve efficiency and cut costs within the Seattle-based company. Schultz acknowledged on Thursday that McDonald’s McCafe high-end coffee drinks had spurred Starbucks to optimize its operations. “McDonald’s made us better,” he said.

And the company recently introduced a new kind of regular coffee, Pike Place Blend, whose name hints at Starbucks’ humble beginnings in Seattle in the 1970s.

Thanks to strong Via sales and successful cost-cutting, Starbucks this week revised its 2010 earnings guidance upward by several percentage points.