Starbucks can't quit its specialty Frappuccinos, despite sliding sales
- Starbucks has introduced a new, limited time Frappuccino, called Witch's Brew, to coincide with Halloween, according to a company release. The purple, orange cream-flavored drink includes green chia seeds, vanilla-flavored whipped cream and a “dusting of green powder.”
- To market the new beverage, Starbucks is calling it a blend of "toad’s breath", "bat warts" and "lizard scale.”
- This is the fourth year in a row the coffee giant has rolled out a Halloween-themed Frappuccino.
Putting promotional and operational support behind a new Frappuccino seems an odd move for Starbucks right now, as the coffee chain has acknowledged that this specific frozen beverage platform has struggled as of late. In 2015, for example, Frappuccino sales grew 17% over 2014. But by this past May, sales of the drink were down 3%.
Perhaps the company is just sticking to presumed consumer expectations of having something fun and unique for Halloween — like the Franken Frappuccino, Frappula Frappuccino and Zombie Frappuccino before it. These quirky LTOs offer the company an opportunity to flex its innovation prowess a bit. More importantly, they enable its consumers to engage with the brand in a fun way via social media.
Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino from last year, for example, generated about 180,000 Instagram posts in one week, according to UBS research. Free, viral marketing opportunities can justify slight sales declines and some operational complexity for a brief amount of time.
Frappuccinos have been one of Starbucks’ major differentiators, as well as an ideal canvas for LTO innovations such as the S’mores offering. And while competition has intensified (Dunkin’ and McDonald’s both offer frozen coffee offerings, for example) Frappuccinos' sales declines are more likely due to quickly-changing consumer demands, as their high sugar counts have become a turnoff for those who are health conscious.
That doesn’t mean Starbucks is going to pull the plug on its signature frozen line. In fact, it’s currently testing recipes with less sugar and fewer calories.
Starbucks is certainly pulling out all the stops, and for good reason. Sales have been sluggish recently and, in a note to investors in May, Bernstein analysts even said that McDonald’s may be taking share away from the coffee giant.
But the purpose of this Witch’s Brew is not to solve these issues. Starbucks is working diligently on other platforms to do that, including with its Blonde Espresso, Teavana Shaken Iced Tea infusions, Nitro Cold Brew and plant-based protein blended cold brews.
According to the company’s Q3 earnings call, cold beverages now make up 50% of Starbucks’ business and have become a year-round occasion.
“While not yet enough to offset sales declines in Frappuccino sales, we see substantial accretive growth from draft, refreshers, tea and cold brew platforms,” COO Rosalind Brewer said during the call. “When we wrap our arms around our consumer-driven needs for the growth in our business and innovation, it sends us directly towards a cold platform. … We actually feel pretty good about our beverage lineup and the innovation pipeline.”
- Restaurant Business Online Starbucks brews up a witchy Frappuccino
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