Think Outside the K-Cup, Three Business Principles I Learned While Comparing Starbucks Via with Starbucks K-Cups

I discovered Starbucks in 1994 when a group of Disney executives held a meeting at the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in western Canada. One morning our Canadian hosts took us to a charming coffee shop in the village and one guy ordered this thing called a “latte.” I had no idea what that was, I assumed it was a special local favorite. I ordered coffee, black, large.

Whoa, one sip and my boring Maxwell House life was forever changed, I was hooked on this new coffee. At that time there were few Starbucks stores east of the Rocky Mountains, so for years I got my Starbucks through their direct mail program. How thrilled I was in 1997 when Starbucks opened their first store in Nashville. I’m happy to report there are now three Starbucks within three miles of my house.

I was skeptical when Starbucks introduced the Via brand in 2009. Starbucks as an instant? Heck, that was something Maxwell House would do. But, as a loyal devotee, I tried the product during an in-store demo and dad gum, for instant it was pretty good. I was given a few sample packs, which I brought home and tossed into my coffee drawer.

All my coffee habits got scrambled last Christmas when my family gave me a Keurig coffee maker. Though I was initially frustrated that Starbucks didn’t sell K-Cups for the Keurig, I found some good alternatives, Paul Newman’s Special Blend Extra Bold being the best. But Starbucks announced their entrance to the K-Cup revolution earlier this year so now I can have my beloved Starbucks in a K-Cup.

But I have discovered that the K-Cup is not the best way to enjoy Starbucks with the Keurig. One night last week I wanted some coffee but was disappointed to realize I was out of K-Cups but I did have one of those remaining Via instant packages. So I improvised by running water through my Keurig into a cup where I had emptied the Via package, and to my surprise, it was MUCH better than the Starbucks K-cup! The water from the Keurig comes out at the perfect temperature and it keeps its heat much better than microwaved water, the normal way I prepare instant.

But wait, there’s more good news! A Starbucks Via package costs about $.20 less than a Starbucks K-Cup. So, while I will always prefer the brewed-bean version of Starbucks, I now have a perfectly good alternative with a Via package poured into Keurig-heated water.

I find three business principles from my caffeine-inspired story:

#1 Innovation usually happens by accident, so embrace life’s surprises. I doubt I would have ever tried the Via in K-Cups option has I not been out of Starbucks K-Cups, but the urge for coffee caused me to think out side the box, or shall I say, outside the K-Cup.

#2 Brands have to innovate and grow while they maintain the quality that defines them. My brewed Starbucks today tasted as great as did the first cup I had in 1994. But, while the product has stayed the same, the brilliant leadership at Starbucks has changed (for the better) everything else … expansion of retail, then instant, then K-Cups. The only uncertainty for Starbucks is “what’s next?” Contrast that with Maxwell House, not even the shade of blue on the coffee can has changed since Eisenhower was President.

#3 Every Goliath should be afraid of a David. Keurig is the product of a reasonably small yet fast-growing company based in sleepy Vermont. But Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has turned the coffee business upside down, and now all the coffee giants like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, P&G and the rest are rushing to get their products into K-Cup distribution. If you have a great product like the Keurig, you can make things happen, and make the Goliaths very uncomfortable.

Jim Cumbee JD, MBA is Managing Director of Tennessee Valley Group, Inc.
jim@tnvalleygroup.com (615) 390-9966

I discovered Starbucks in 1994 when a group of Disney executives held a meeting at the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in western Canada. One morning our Canadian hosts took us to a charming coffee shop in the village and one guy ordered this thing called a “latte.” I had no idea what that was, I assumed it was a special local favorite. I ordered coffee, black, large.

Whoa, one sip and my boring Maxwell House life was forever changed, I was hooked on this new coffee. At that time there were few Starbucks stores east of the Rocky Mountains, so for years I got my Starbucks through their direct mail program. How thrilled I was in 1997 when Starbucks opened their first store in Nashville. I’m happy to report there are now three Starbucks within three miles of my house.

I was skeptical when Starbucks introduced the Via brand in 2009. Starbucks as an instant? Heck, that was something Maxwell House would do. But, as a loyal devotee, I tried the product during an in-store demo and dad gum, for instant it was pretty good. I was given a few sample packs, which I brought home and tossed into my coffee drawer.

All my coffee habits got scrambled last Christmas when my family gave me a Keurig coffee maker. Though I was initially frustrated that Starbucks didn’t sell K-Cups for the Keurig, I found some good alternatives, Paul Newman’s Special Blend Extra Bold being the best. But Starbucks announced their entrance to the K-Cup revolution earlier this year so now I can have my beloved Starbucks in a K-Cup.

But I have discovered that the K-Cup is not the best way to enjoy Starbucks with the Keurig. One night last week I wanted some coffee but was disappointed to realize I was out of K-Cups but I did have one of those remaining Via instant packages. So I improvised by running water through my Keurig into a cup where I had emptied the Via package, and to my surprise, it was MUCH better than the Starbucks K-cup! The water from the Keurig comes out at the perfect temperature and it keeps its heat much better than microwaved water, the normal way I prepare instant.

But wait, there’s more good news! A Starbucks Via package costs about $.20 less than a Starbucks K-Cup. So, while I will always prefer the brewed-bean version of Starbucks, I now have a perfectly good alternative with a Via package poured into Keurig-heated water.

I find three business principles from my caffeine-inspired story:

#1 Innovation usually happens by accident, so embrace life’s surprises. I doubt I would have ever tried the Via in K-Cups option has I not been out of Starbucks K-Cups, but the urge for coffee caused me to think out side the box, or shall I say, outside the K-Cup.

#2 Brands have to innovate and grow while they maintain the quality that defines them. My brewed Starbucks today tasted as great as did the first cup I had in 1994. But, while the product has stayed the same, the brilliant leadership at Starbucks has changed (for the better) everything else … expansion of retail, then instant, then K-Cups. The only uncertainty for Starbucks is “what’s next?” Contrast that with Maxwell House, not even the shade of blue on the coffee can has changed since Eisenhower was President.

#3 Every Goliath should be afraid of a David. Keurig is the product of a reasonably small yet fast-growing company based in sleepy Vermont. But Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has turned the coffee business upside down, and now all the coffee giants like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, P&G and the rest are rushing to get their products into K-Cup distribution. If you have a great product like the Keurig, you can make things happen, and make the Goliaths very uncomfortable.

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim Cumbee established Tennessee Valley Group to help business owners fulfill their dreams for life after business ownership. It’s a mission that his 30+ year career history had prepared him well for—in addition to being an attorney, transition mediator and business broker, Jim has been a buyer, seller, and entrepreneur. His broad range of experience gives him unique insight into how business buyers and sellers can achieve their goals.

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