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Capturing the instant

A window into the launch of Starbucks premium soluble coffee
Starbucks Instant
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It was in February 2019 that the idea got off the ground: How about further expanding Starbucks footprint into instant coffee? Encouraged by the success met by the latest range of Starbucks at-home products, colleagues on each side of the global coffee alliance got talking.

The idea had merits: The instant coffee segment continues to grow – one in every four cups drunk worldwide is instant coffee. Time-pressed consumers, or those without a coffee system at home, enjoy its convenience.

Innovative coffee range

The alliance set out on developing a premium Starbucks instant coffee offering, one bringing together Nestlé’s expertise in instant coffee and Starbucks unique signature taste.

The range was to include a variety of medium and dark roasts and beverages directly inspired by signature Starbucks favorites – such as Caffè Mocha or Caramel Latte – using the same high quality 100% arabica beans served in Starbucks coffee houses.

"We agreed that the Starbucks team would focus on creating new signature blends and roasts, which Nestlé would then transform into exceptional instant coffees," says Siobhan Gaudino, Nestlé R&D Category Lead, Coffee, who worked on the development of the medium and dark roast range.

Easier said than done.

Nestlé’s 'instant' credentials

Developing an entire new range of blends and roasts is tricky enough; replicating their unique taste profile into an instant format is another challenge altogether.

"This is the first time we’ve developed coffee specifically for instant coffee and it was an exciting new opportunity for us," said Mary Mayorquin, Global Coffee Strategy and Development for Starbucks.

The team had a few things going for it: It was able to draw on Nestlé’s unmatched credentials in 'instant coffee'. Nestlé had developed an improved version of instant coffee after it was approached in the late 1930s by the Brazilian government, then grappling with an enormous coffee surplus. Nestlé has been driving innovation in this segment ever since.

Sensory expert

And the team had 'Bony'. A Nestlé sensory expert specialized in instant coffee, Febronia Fagone was on hand to facilitate dialogue between the Starbucks and the Nestlé teams. Describing flavor, aroma and texture can prove tricky. Words can mean different things to different people.

"Bony served as a 'translator', although we all spoke English around the table," says Siobhan.

"She helped each team develop a clear understanding of what the other team expected and helped formulating these expectations using a language understood by all."

Challenges in no short supply

While instant coffee is deceptively simple to prepare – pour coffee, add hot water, drink – its manufacturing process is anything but: coffee beans are roasted before being brewed into hot water; the resulting coffee brew is then concentrated, before being dried into a fine powder.

Preserving the unique signature taste of each different Starbucks coffee throughout these different steps proved complex. And because the new range spanned roasts and mixes, technical challenges were varied – and plenty.

"The medium and dark roasts required highly specific brewing conditions in order to bring out the signature roasty aromas that make these Starbucks coffees so distinctive," says Siobhan.

The coffee specialities range presented their own set of challenges: the team wanted the ingredients list to be short and natural. Pure milk would be used, essential to deliver the signature taste consumers expect from Starbucks. Texture, a critical aspect of the coffee drinking experience had to be perfect, too – obtaining that perfect milk froth was perfected through countless rounds of trial and error.

Fast time to market

"With our experience in roasting and blending, the quality of coffee we source combined with Nestlé’s expertise in the instant space, we knew we were going to create something extremely unique," said Mary Mayorquin.

Only twelve months after the teams agreed to take up the challenge, the Starbucks premium instant range is hitting supermarket shelves in several countries around the world, with consumers also able to purchase them from major online platforms.

The new product line-up is the latest to emerge from the Nestlé-Starbucks deal, which closed at the end of August 2018.