Starbucks is about to make a cold — and carbonated — calculation.
On Tuesday, the designer coffee kingpin will try to become a designer soft drink titan, too, with the launch of three flavors of Fizzio Handcrafted Sodas made by baristas at more than 3,000 locations across the U.S Sunbelt. It's a carefully calculated bid to drum-up afternoon business and evolve yet another beverage specialty.
If it works, Starbucks will have given folks yet another reason to willingly pay a premium for beverages that are part show and part show-off.
"We are changing the game in terms of how to get a carbonated drink," says Josh Fine, brand manager for Fizzio."Like what Starbucks did to coffee 40 years ago, we think we can do in the carbonation space."
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The sodas have Starbucks pricing: about $2.45 for a "tall." (A "tall" coffee goes for about $1.80.)
The same baristas who put on a show making lattes and espressos now will go through lots of fizzing and popping to make you a root beer, ginger ale or lemon ale. And get this: They are caffeine-free.
It only takes about 85 seconds for a barista to make a Fizzio drink, so they won't result in long lines, says Fine. And while the machines are noisy, he says they will add — not subtract — to store ambiance. Starbucks won't say when the sodas will be in all stores.
For Starbucks, it's about getting a toehold in the $400 million global carbonated beverage market. While carbonated beverage sales have declined in the U.S. for years, Starbucks figures it can lure nutrition-conscious Millennials with sodas that have the fizz but no artificial preservatives or additives, and no high-fructose corn syrup.
"Adding new drinking occasions is the key to (Starbucks) growth," says Michael Silverstein, senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group. The company also is branching into tea with its purchase and expansion of the Teavana brand.
What's more, homemade soft drinks are hot. They were named the top beverage trend last year in the National Restaurant Association's annual survey of top chefs.
About a year ago, Starbucks began testing the sodas in Austin and Atlanta. In those markets, plus Houston, it's also now testing a caffeinated cola with a hint of citrus and honey, says Fine.
The sodas are made with a machine developed by Starbucks and partner Cornelius. It does not combine carbonated water with syrup as in most commercial machines. Instead, the flavors and spices are combined in a large cheesecloth — like a big tea bag — and steeped in hot water. Buyers can request light, standard or extra carbonation.
As an alternative to soda, you can get that carbonation in an ice tea or Starbucks Refresher for an extra 50 cents.
And while you can't order a real root beer float — Starbucks doesn't sell ice cream — some folks in testing have asked for a root beer mixed with a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino. "It's not on the menu," says Fine, "but our customers can be pretty creative."