SEATTLE - Starbucks Corp. will start serving up a new "everyday" brew today, hoping the signature blend will help revive slumping sales in its crucial U.S. market.
To celebrate the launch, it will host a half-hour nationwide coffee-tasting, giving away free 8 oz. cups of Pike Place Roast - named after its first store in Seattle's famed public market - at more than 7,000 U.S. stores beginning at 9 a.m. Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz said the new blend will have a bold, robust flavor profile that customers have come to expect of Starbucks coffee, but with a smoother, buttery finish.
"It's the best of Starbucks," Schultz said in a conference call Monday.
It will be freshly roasted and shipped directly to stores, hand-scooped, freshly ground and brewed in small batches. Baristas have been told to throw out any brew that hasn't been served within 30 minutes.
"We'll be pouring out more coffee than most people serve," Schultz said.
It will be brewed, both regular and decaf, alongside rotating coffees of the week, and sold by the whole bean for $9.95 per pound.
Starbucks developed Pike Place Roast - testing some 30 roasts and 30 blends - after consulting with nearly 1,000 customers who clamored for a line of drip coffee that wouldn't switch from, say, an earthy Sumatra one week to a bright, citrusy Ethiopia Sidamo the next.
Consistently, customers kept saying: "Give us a coffee we can count on every day, all day, all week," Andrew Linnemann, Starbucks master coffee blender said Monday in a conference call with reporters.
Starbucks has spent the last few months sharpening its focus on the basics - a strategy Schultz is pushing as part of the company's efforts to reinvigorate its U.S. business, which has suffered amid a soft economy and growing competition from rivals including McDonald's Corp., Dunkin' Donuts and Peet's Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee and small, independent coffee shops.
Yet Schultz bristles at any suggestion that the company's turnaround efforts are aimed at the competition.
"This is not about competition. This is about Starbucks," Schultz said. "We believe that we control our own destiny, and our customers expect a quality from Starbucks that is unparalleled."
One night in late February, the company shut down most of its U.S. stores for three hours to retrain baristas on espresso basics.
The company has also promised to start grinding all its brewed coffee in stores, which will bring back the pungent aroma many customers have missed since the company started using flavor-locked bags of pre-ground coffee years ago.
Schultz has acknowledged that declining U.S. home prices, a widespread credit crunch and rising gasoline and energy costs have undoubtedly made many consumers pare back on affordable luxuries like $4 lattes.
But he has repeatedly insisted he believes Starbucks' bigger problem was that it focused too much on growth in recent years and not enough on customers and its core product.