From strawless lids to real pumpkin in the PSL, here's how Starbucks drinks have changed over the last 10 years
For Starbucks customers, the last ten years have meant many new ways to enjoy their morning coffee. From a focus on "Instagrammable" drinks that go viral to more sustainable initiatives such as strawless lids, Starbucks drinks have undergone quite a few changes as the company strives to reach billions of consumers worldwide. The Pink Drink, Starbucks Refreshers, and Teavana tea drinks were all added to Starbucks menus in the 2010s, indicating that Starbucks has been attempting to extend beyond its standard espresso coffee beverages. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
It may be hard for some Starbucks coffee drinkers to imagine a time without Cold Brew, almond milk, or Starbucks K-Cups. Yet, at one time, these menu items and products were brand new. After the cult-like following of the "Starbucks secret menu" began requesting custom fan-made drinks, secret menu items have even begun showing up on the official Starbucks menu, namely the fan-favorite Pink Drink. Year after year, the brand is also leaning into the "Instagramable" quality of colorful and vibrant drinks, which can quickly go viral on social media, bringing in traffic and sales to Starbucks stores nationwide. Here's how Starbucks drinks have changed and evolved over the last ten years.SEE ALSO: 11 years of Starbucks holiday cups reveal how the coffee giant's iconic red cup has transformed In 2010, Starbucks introduced its However-You-Want-It Frappuccino.
Starbucks released its very first Frappuccino back in 1995, but it wasn't until 2010 that Starbucks customers could easily customize their frozen beverage with their choice of milk, coffee type, syrups, and toppings. As syrups didn't cost extra to add to the drinks, analysts at the time reported that the new customizable option was warding off competition from McDonald's, who had released their own less expensive frozen Frappe drinks. "The free additions make the drinks seem like a better deal," Tom Forte, a restaurant analyst with New York-based Telsey Advisory Group, told Bloomberg in 2010. By allowing customers to create their own Frappuccino drinks, Starbucks also inadvertently allowed customers to begin ordering "secret menu" versions of the popular blended drink, such as the fan-created, Harry Potter-inspired Butterbeer Frappuccino or the Cadbury Cream Egg Frappuccino. Starbucks told Business Insider that customers can now customize beverages in more than 170,000 different ways. In, 2011 Starbucks allowed customers to bring their favorite brews home with the launch of Starbucks K-Cup packs.
In November 2011, Starbucks customers could begin purchasing Starbucks K-Cups for single-serve home-brewing. The new product's release followed the global success of the company's VIA Ready Brew line, which surpassed $200 million in sales in its first year on the market. K-Cups grew immensely in popularity between the years 2011 and 2015. In 2015, Forbes reported that a study conducted by the National Coffee Association showed that 25% of American coffee drinkers used single-serving coffee machines, and Starbucks brand K-cups owned 15% of the market. In 2011, the brand also redesigned its logo to be more minimal.
Starbucks drinks got a makeover when the company's cups were rebranded with a new logo. Changes to the logo included removing the "Starbucks Coffee" company name and simplifying the color scheme to green and white. In 2012, Starbucks acquired Teavana and began selling tea in its locations.
Starbucks purchased tea chain Teavana for $620 million in an acquisition move that attempted to gain access to the "rapidly growing $40 billion global tea category," according to a Starbucks press release from 2012. Starbucks Handcrafted Refreshers entered Starbucks locations in 2012.
Marketed as a low-calorie beverage with a natural source of energy, Handcrafted Refreshers were made with fresh fruit. The beverage was also made available as powdered VIA Refreshers instant beverages and in cans as Starbucks Ready-to-Drink Refreshers. Starbucks has continued to sell Refreshers in the past few years, with a continued focus on "healthier" beverage options. In 2014, Teavana Shaken Iced Teas and Teavana Hot Brewed Tea arrived in stores.
Interest in Teavana and tea products has dwindled over the years. In 2017, Starbucks announced that it would be closing all 379 of its Teavana retail stores on account of poor performance. However, the company expanded its Teavana packaged tea products to grocery and other retail stores in 2018, following a 14% increase in packaged tea sales in Starbucks locations. Starbucks launched its Cold Brew iced coffee in 2015.
Starbucks released its Cold Brew in the summer of 2015, and it's been a popular menu item ever since. Starbucks Cold Brew is unsweetened, but the process of brewing reportedly makes for a "naturally sweet, smooth" iced coffee flavor, and numbers show that fans love the cold beverage. Forbes reports that sales of cold brew nationwide rose 25% following the release of Starbucks' Cold Brew. Evolution Fresh cold-pressed juices and smoothies entered Starbucks stores in 2016 after the company was acquired in 2011.
An initiative to promote healthier options and turn away from Starbucks' coffee-centric branding led to a partnership with juice brand Evolution Fresh. With a desire to enter into the, at the time, $50 billion health and wellness sector, Starbucks purchased the juice company for $30 million. Though the smoothies and cold-pressed juices are still available in Starbucks retail locations, the last two remaining Evolution Fresh stores closed in 2017. In 2015, Starbucks announced it would begin adding pumpkin puree to its iconic pumpkin spice latte and remove all artificial colors.
The Pumpkin Spice Latte, Starbucks' most popular seasonal menu item according to a press release, debuted in 2003 and sold more than 200 million between its launch and 2013. Two years later, Starbucks began adding real pumpkin puree to the fall drink, as it had previously used pumpkin spices. The company also removed caramel coloring from the pumpkin-flavored syrup used to make Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Starbucks also launched a nationwide rollout of coconut milk in its locations.
In its first alternative to dairy and soy milk, Starbucks began using coconut milk in its stores. The company touted in its press release at the time that coconut milk was the best nondairy alternative for Starbucks beverages, "without the same allergen challenges present in almond milk." However, in 2016, Starbucks gave its customers the option to order drinks with almond milk in a greater push towards more nondairy milk alternatives. Following the success of its original Cold Brew, Starbucks launched Nitro Cold Brew in 2016.
Starbucks' Nitro Cold Brew promised to be smoother and creamier due to the infusion of nitrogen into the coffee. In 2018, as Frappuccino sales were declining, the new cold beverage was rising in popularity, especially among younger male millennials, according to Forbes. Restaurant Business also reported that since its release in 2016, Nitro Cold Brew has generated "strong sales" for the company, as did the 2019 release of the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew. In 2017, the Pink Drink — a far cry from the espresso-based drinks of Starbucks' early days — took over the internet.
If one Starbucks drink holds the title of the most viral Starbucks drink of the decade, it would be the Pink Drink. The drink is made with Strawberry Acai Refreshers with accents of passion fruit and acai, coconut milk, and topped with strawberries. With the introduction of the Pink Drink, customers were choosing to order the beverage with non-dairy milk options. The original drink recipe comes with coconut milk instead of water or dairy milk. Another "Instagrammable" drink that drove sales in 2017 was the Unicorn Frappuccino.
Market Watch reported at the time that Starbucks executives claimed the drink was an "Instagrammable success" that "drove significant traffic" to stores nationwide. The colorful and flavor-changing drink quickly sold out in stores across the country, according to CNBC. The Unicorn Frappuccino was only made available for five days, creating a large stir online as customers flocked to Starbucks locations to try the colorful beverage. In 2018, the look and function of Starbucks drinks changed drastically with the introduction of strawless lids.
In an effort towards improved sustainability practices, Starbucks released its plans to phase out plastic straws from its 28,000 stores, or an estimated 1 billion plastic straws per year, by 2020. However, plastic straws would still be available upon request. Blonde Espresso, a lighter version of the brand's signature espresso, debuted in 2018, six years after the release of the Blonde Roast blend for drip coffee.
After the successful release of the Blonde Roast in 2012, the new addition to Starbucks' menu allowed customers to customize their beverage with a slightly more subtle, sweet-tasting espresso. However, the new espresso option was released to not much fanfare. "I don't think [lighter roasts] work so great in milk-based drinks because they lose their taste," Chris Vigilante, founder of Vigilante Coffee Company told the Washington Post at the time. Starbucks released a line of cold foam beverages in April 2018, allowing customers to enjoy iced Starbucks beverages in a new way.
Instead of hot steamed foam, cold foam is made by blending nonfat milk until it is smooth and frothy. The frothed milk is then topped on top of cold brew, iced Blonde Cappuccinos, and other cold Starbucks beverages. This change allowed Starbucks consumers to enjoy a new kind of whipped topping in a greater push to diversifying the company's cold beverage options. The Cloud Macchiato marked Starbucks' first celebrity collaboration, with pop star Ariana Grande.
While celebrities have perhaps been known to carry Starbucks cups as accessories throughout the years, the Cloud Macchiato marked the first time in which the coffee company worked with a celebrity endorser. While the drink built off popular Starbucks drinks of years past — the Caramel Macchiato and Cinnamon Almond milk Macchiato, to name a few — the drink used a new method of creating a meringue-like foam on the top of the drink using powdered egg whites. The company received light backlash online, however, when customers complained that although Grande herself is vegan, the drink she promoted with Starbucks cannot be made vegan due to the use of egg white powder to make the signature "cloud foam." However, the drink can be made with non-dairy milk alternatives and the company never claimed that the drink was vegan. As part of the chain's summer menu in 2019, Starbucks released a number of fan-favorite menu items including the new Dragon Drink and Mango Dragonfruit Starbucks Refreshers.
In an effort to capitalize on Instagram-worthy food trends and products, Starbucks released a colorful duo of summer drinks in 2019. In a press release, the company stated that "these Starbucks Refreshers beverages will add a pop of color to your cup (and social media feed) this summer and all year long." The vibrant drinks are just one example of how Starbucks is encouraging social media users to drive the popularity and sales of its latest beverages. Starbucks also brought back popular "fan-favorite" Frappuccino blends including the S'mores Frappuccino, Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino, and the Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino. In 2019, Starbucks released an updated version of its popular Pumpkin Spice Latte — the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew.
Released in response to high numbers of cold coffee orders — Starbucks reports that half of all beverage orders are for cold beverages, up from 37% in 2013 — the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew was the first new pumpkin-flavored coffee beverage to join the Starbucks menu in 16 years. The fall menu was also released on its earliest date in Starbucks history, August 27. Following the success of the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, Starbucks also released an iced winter-inspired drink, the Irish Cream Cold Brew.
This seemingly paradoxical drink is the first cold drink to be added to the chain's holiday menu. While it might sound strange to introduce a cold drink in the winter season, following the success of the pumpkin cream cold brew, it might not be so surprising. Nevertheless, it's a big change from the warm Peppermint Mochas and Eggnog Lattes of years past.
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