Never be without great coffee



Our job: Credibly launch instant coffee from a well-established premium coffee brand. There was skepticism. There was internal anxiety. There was a furor brewing in the blogosphere. How could Starbucks, the people who built the traditional-meets-modern coffee culture in the U.S., start selling instant coffee?


We wondered all that too, until we tasted it. As soon as we sipped the first sample of Italian Roast, we knew this cup of coffee maintained the uncompromising quality, rich aroma and signature taste profile of Starbucks coffee. All that with just a mug, hot water, and a couple of seconds! Now anyone could never be without great coffee—a simple truth that became the tagline for the brand.

Into the Wild

Because tasting was believing, Starbucks made the bold move of launching directly into its own retail cafes in three test markets. Skipping the common qualitative and quantitative laboratory testing saved money and it gave us real understanding of how real people responded to the product in real life.

“A thought about testing: pandas rarely mate successfully in captivity.”


"It is my belief that had we tested VIA in a standard CPG method where results are measured without any emotional or entrepreneurial belief in the idea, and where risk-aversion and conservative thinking almost always guide results toward a parity solution, we would have missed the opportunity to understand what consumers really felt about the brand. We may have lost the opportunity to launch at all. One last thought about testing: pandas rarely mate successfully in captivity."

Inventing a new category

Starbucks VIA™ landed with a splash in a category in need of reinvention. It may not get a lot of attention, but the global market for instant coffee is huge, and had not had any significant innovation in years. VIA changed that by bringing Starbucks flavor and quality into a field of, well, not-very-good coffee.




Once the test-launch proved VIA a wild success, it was time to build out the platform for Starbucks retail and grocery stores.

Armed with what we'd learned from the test launch, and understanding the appeal of the product and reaction to the brand, we set out to redefine the design of the package. The new package would allow for global flexibility and extend the product offering to include a range of roasts, blends, iced and flavored coffees.

One significant learning from the test launch was that people not only accepted Starbucks could produce a great instant coffee, they were eager for it. This wasn't instant coffee brought to you by Starbucks; this was Starbucks coffee, brought to you in a different form. Accordingly some things needed to change on the packaging.



We looked at the potential product extension through a design lens, determined the pure brand attributes and how they could appropriately function across the portfolio. We had to let some things go, and evolve what was working. Our solution was to leverage the iconic Starbucks cup with a loud and proud logo. The cup shape served as a vessel to depict the attributes of the experience you were about to enjoy – it distinguished hot from cold, and illustrated the flavor or coffee blend. This element retained the premium quality of Starbucks retail stores while serving as a hard-working element in the noisy, competitive grocery aisle.

Bates summarizes, "We executed our best-of-class strategic thinking and design disciplines on this project. We let go of what did not work, built on what did, and sold it in at all levels of the Starbucks group, believing that we could build the parachute before we hit the ground. Did I mention that the anvil was heavy, too? Well, it was!"

“In a simple yet brilliant design, the firm [Hornall Anderson] met the packaging challenge by transferring the quality and trust associated with beverages sold in Starbucks stores to VIA,” says Howard Schultz. “Subtle yet straightforward. Sophisticated without being gimmicky. Utterly authentic.”

— Howard Schultz

From ONWARD by Howard Schultz with Joanne Gordon. Copyright © 2011 by Howard Schultz. Reprinted by permission of Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098.

The Results

Starbucks VIA™ was an instant success, exceeding its first year's sales goals in its first quarter on the market. Just ten months after its debut, Starbucks VIA™ Ready Brew reached the $100 million mark in global sales across six continents.