The Korea Herald


Starbucks hopes instant coffee will cement dominance


Published : Sept. 15, 2011 - 19:41

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Starbucks still is a major player in the Korean market even though local coffee houses are growing rapidly, its Asia Pacific chief Jinlong Wang said Thursday.

“We don’t mind if (our competitors) can do better. But we will always offer something unique and different,” he told The Korea Herald.

Such confidence, he said, comes from the Seattle-based company’s continuing efforts toward innovation, which recently led to the creation of VIA Ready Brew, its first instant coffee brand launched in 2009. Korean sales of the product will start Friday in more than 370 Starbucks locations nationwide.

Korean consumers have long been huge fans of stick-type coffee products in which powdered cream and sugar are also mixed.

Of the 3 trillion won ($2.7 billion) coffee market in Korea, instant coffee makes up almost 1.3 trillion won.

Wang, however, refused to compare VIA to existing cheaper instant coffee products, putting it into the whole new category of “premium instant coffee.”
Jinlong Wang, Starbucks Asia-Pacific president.(Starbucks Korea) Jinlong Wang, Starbucks Asia-Pacific president.(Starbucks Korea)

“VIA coffee, which is based on the company’s research and innovation over the past 20 years, tastes as good as fresh-brewed coffee at Starbucks stores,” said Wang.

The former CEO of Starbucks China took office as Asia Pacific president two months ago.

According to the company, VIA coffee is made from 100 percent Arabica coffee beans used in Starbucks stores

The VIA line is priced at 3,500 won for a three-serving packet, several times higher than other instant coffee mix products, and its purchase is only available in Starbucks stores.

“We see an immense opportunity for Starbucks VIA in Asia, especially with the popularity and significant size of the region’s instant coffee category,” he said.

According to Euromonitors 2010, the instant coffee market size across Asia Pacific region in which Starbucks operates is approximately $4 billion.

Wang expected VIA to become another $1 billion Starbucks brand in the coming years. Since its launch in September 2009, its sales have surpassed the $200 million mark as of March this year.

“In this time when the market potential seems big enough, the launch of VIA will become our next growth engine,” he said.

Like other participants in the tasting event, Wang, who has traveled and tasted coffee items in every Starbucks location worldwide, said he could not recognize the difference in the tastes between VIA and fresh-brewed Starbucks coffee.

Despite the subtle difference in taste, he said, however, there was still good reason for customers to sip a cup of coffee at Starbucks stores.

“Starbucks has created a new coffee culture and lifestyle among our customers. They visit our store not just to drink coffee but to enjoy the whole experience in there,” he said.

By Lee Ji-yoon (