Starbucks Rolls Out Initiatives, Revamped Brew Program

In a move sure to heat up the coffee war among retailers, Starbucks Coffee Co. has announced plans to introduce a series of groundbreaking initiatives that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says will transform the customer experience.

News of the plan was featured in Thursday’s USA Today, though Schultz first presented it to more than 6,000 company shareholders at a Wednesday meeting. He outlined five initiatives the company plans to pursue, including everything from new coffee-brewing methods to the installation of new equipment.

Key among those initiatives is a plan to reinvigorate the company’s coffee experience, with the foremost maneuver calling for Starbucks to be the sole user of The Coffee Equipment Co.’s Clover Brewing System.

The Clover machine’s brewing process is similar to the coffee-press method, but uses a vacuum technology that vigorously draws flavors from Starbucks’ more exotic blends, like Aged Sumatra and Ethiopia Tergacheffe.

“The Clover brewing system also adds to the theater and drama of the coffee experience through its highly visual brewing method,” the company said in a press release. Terms of the agreement between Starbucks and The Coffee Equipment Co. were not disclosed.

Starbucks is also adding a new blend called Pike Place Roast, which will be introduced to customers in mid-April. Perhaps most notably, the company is requiring its stores to brew smaller batches of coffee and implementing a hold time of no more than 30 minutes for each brew, enabling customers to receive fresh coffee at any time.

Schultz said these decisions and more will reaffirm the company’s place “as the world’s coffee authority.”

Among the other moves:
* The introduction of the Mastrena, a new generation of espresso machine being provided exclusively to Starbucks. The machine grinds every shot to order, has greater options for milk steaming and customization and has a lower profile so customers get a front-row seat to their order. About 30% of the stores are expected to implement the machine by the end of the year, with 75% usage by 2010.

* New benefits for Starbucks Card Rewards holders, such as free coffee with certain ground-bean purchases, free customization of drinks or two hours of free in-store Wi-Fi access each day. About one in seven Starbucks customers already uses a Starbucks Rewards Card.

* The launch of Mystarbucksidea.com, an online community where customers can offer suggestions to help shape the company’s future.

* Renewed focus on sustainable resources and climate preservation through environmentally conscientious product sourcing.

Starbucks’ fresh-ground concept will be in use by mid-August at 7,100 Starbucks-owned U.S. stores, though no decision has been made on Starbucks’ 4,000 U.S. franchise locations or its 4,588 international stores, Schultz added.

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