Starbucks is widening the scope of its plant-based options, announcing that the company plans to innovate its food and drink menu to further capitalize on the changing consumer trends towards meatless and dairy-free diets. The coffee chain took massive steps to accommodate plant-based eaters over the last year, but the company plans to renew and revamp these promises. During an investor earnings call this week, company executives brewed a slew of ideas that will soon come to fruition in locations nationwide. Starbucks' CEO Kevin Johnson declared that the company has noticed the changing trends during the COVID-19 pandemic, and plans to listen to those consumer desires.

“If I were to say what is probably the most dominant shift in consumer behavior, [it] is this whole shift to plant-based [products],” Johnson said. “And that is a shift both in beverage and in food.”

Starbucks Has Been Shifting to Plant-Based

Starbucks took its first plunge into plant-based options in 2016 when the company added almond milk to its menus. This move made it easy for coffee drinkers nationwide to order dairy-free specialty drinks, allowing Starbucks to appeal to consumers who cut milk from their diets. After the success of this outreach, the company experimented by including oat milk at 1,300 of its midwest locations, and customers loved it. The regional oat milk trial ended in popular success and soon all plant-based coffee drinkers can celebrate with oat milk lattes across all Starbucks locations.

Since the beginning of the initial stay-at-home orders, Starbucks says consumers, who were less likely to be commuting or on a lunch break in chilly weather, became less likely to buy a singular hot drink and moved towards cold drinks and bulkier orders. Starbucks shifted its concentration onto plant-based items and cold beverages to make up for the losses seen by the pandemic. Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer explained, “That’s why we’re seeing this improved food attach [purchases of food attached to beverages] and so we feel confident that those kinds of innovations are going to keep that ticket higher than what we’ve seen in the past.”

The company did not stop at plant-based lattes and cappuccinos, and over the past year, Starbucks has bulked its menu with plant-based foods. The Impossible Breakfast Sandwich hit nationwide menus in June, now an acting competitor to Dunkin’ Donut’s Beyond Breakfast Sandwich. Although the sandwich cannot be made vegan, its success with customers inspired the company to experiment further at a singular location in Issaquah, Washington.

Starbucks Looks to Please Vegan Customers With New Options

The Issaquah location, based right outside of Seattle, stacked its menu with fresh vegan breakfast options to test the limits of a new menu. The menu includes an all-vegan Plant-Powered Breakfast Sandwich, which is made with a mung bean-based egg, a plant-based sausage, dairy-free cheese, served on an English Muffin. Starbucks jumped into deeper territory with a quiche alternative Plant-Powered Potato Bake bite made with the plant-based egg. The store also introduced Chickpea bites and vegan cashew milk-based cream cheese sourced from Miyoko’s Creamery.

“We use that [store] as sort of a test area when we innovate, create things here in our support center,” CEO Johnson said. “We test in that store. So, if I think about both beverage and food, the number one trend I would high there are just the consumer shift and consumer preferences around plant-based.”

Starbuck is pivoting its business model to meet plant-based demands, fueling hope that these experiments will prove popular enough to make their way to nationwide locations. In the near future, we hope customers won't have to give up grabbing a coffee and breakfast sandwich from Starbucks if they want to switch up a plant-based diet.

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