January 12, 2017

Starbucks’ Cascara Latte: What Does It Mean For Specialty?


Starbucks are looking to the specialty industry for inspiration once more. The newest addition to their menu is a cascara latte: a regular latte but with cascara syrup and a garnish of sugary cascara extract sprinkled on top.

SEE ALSO: Cascara Latte VIDEO Review: Can This Drink Be Third Wave?

They’ve been adopting third wave products and terminology for a while now: cold brew, nitro, “small batch” Starbucks Reserve coffees, pour over devices…

This movement is good news for us – but it also poses a challenge.

Cascara Latte

Starbucks’ cascara latte. Credit: Starbucks

Why Is Starbucks Looking to Specialty?

Starbucks’ brand was always based on offering high-quality coffee. When they first launched, they were revolutionary. But over time, they haven’t kept up with the latest trends for high-quality coffee. They haven’t needed to: they’re the biggest coffee shop chain in the world, with over 25,000 cafes.

Recently, however, Starbucks struggled to crack Australia, closing 75% of their stores in two years (by Vice’s calculations). And as millennials look to small coffee shops and the third wave, the brand is searching for new ways to appeal to this demographic.

So how should we react?

Starbucks Grand Reserve

Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Credit: Rob Bertholf via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The Good & The Bad of a “Specialty” Starbucks

Starbucks might not be specialty by everyone’s definition, but to a commodity consumer they’re sure going to seem specialty.

The world’s most famous coffee brand is incorporating third wave trends into its menu in a way that isn’t intimidating to casual coffee drinkers. And a consumer who has decided they like small-batch roasts (Starbucks Reserve), and has has their curiosity piqued about what coffee actually is (thanks to a cascara latte), is going to be easier to convert.

Picture the conversation: “I’m sorry, we don’t have a cascara latte, but we do have cascara tea. Or our espresso offering has the sweet notes you might expect from a Starbucks cascara latte, and comes from…” Or: “Yes, we do offer Yirgacheffe, just like Starbucks. But you’ll find ours is a lighter roast. This brings out the floral notes.”

On the other hand, differentiating ourselves – one of the keys to strong marketing – as an industry is going to become more difficult. Because Starbucks, with its ubiquity, is always going to be the easy option for consumers. And if they can’t tell the difference between your cafe and Starbucks, why should they walk through your door?

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