I was at the grocery store to pick up a bag of coffee last week, only to be deeply disheartened by what I saw.
Let’s start with a disclosure; at my last job I worked on the Starbucks and Seattle’s Best Coffee accounts as a copywriter, particularly in the grocery channel. I loved working on both of these brands, because they were passionate about their products, the way craft brewers are these days about their beers. Starbucks and Seattle’s Best were striving to bring a love and understanding of good coffee to the masses, something I could totally get behind.
While it appears they are still trying to help folks fall in with good coffee, they seem to have given up on educating people altogether. Instead it’s now coffee by the numbers, which makes me sad.
Take a look above at the picture I snapped in the aisle. What you see on the top row are five selections from Seattle’s Best Coffee. You wouldn’t know that by looking at them, because they’ve given up their festive red-colored bag for a color coding system, with each bag featuring a large number. That number corresponds with the “intensity” of each coffee contained within; 1 being the lightest and 5 being the most intense, in this case their tasty French Roast.
Look one shelf below, and you’ll see Starbucks has gotten into the dumbing-down act as well, which makes sense, as both brands are owned by the same company. In their case it’s light, medium and dark, but the message is the same: We’ve given up on you, American consumer, and no longer trust you to process anything larger than a single number or a six-letter word. Forget reading a label. Forget curiosity. Forget finding an unexpected gem. Fire and forget, ‘murica!
And it’s a shame, because when these companies rolled into the grocery channel, they were on a mission to bring a passion for good coffee to your local store. Now it’s crystal clear that the bean counters have won at Starbucks, and they’ve decided their once-precious offerings should now simply be slapped with a number or dumped in one of three bins.
Think of when really good craft beers first began to appear at grocery stores, that sense of excitement and promise you felt, like the world was finally catching on to the fact that there’s more to life than mass-produced macro crap brewed by massive corporations. That’s what it was like when Starbucks came to the store, with their special booklets, interactive kiosks and jazz bands. They were going to change the world, and instead, it now appears that the world has dragged them down.
Gourmet coffee is ahead of craft beer by about a decade in this regard, and if what Starbucks has stooped to is any indication, in ten year’s time we can look forward to Victory or Avery or Sierra Nevada having coding system as well.
1=lager, 2=pilsner, 3=pale ale, 4=porter, 5=stout.
At this rate Idiocracy will be a reality before you know it – I’m just waiting for Hulk Hogan to run for President.
Shame on you Starbucks.