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"No self-respectin' Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits."

This line from the 1992 movie "My Cousin Vinny" stated by someone claiming to be an eyewitness to a crime provided the slick, New York, first-time lawyer a clue to the innocence of his clients.

More so, it truly and accurately represents the way Southerners feel about their grits.

Instant: Form Factor Furthest From Fresh

It is no surprise about grits. This rule applies to nearly any instant food product. Instant is the furthest point, on the opposite end, from fresh. Instant grits. Instant potatoes. Tang = instant orange juice. Even "juice from concentrate" pales in flavor compared to freshly squeezed oranges.

We Americans love convenience, but we often trade it for quality.

To hear Starbucks launching its VIA Ready Brew instant coffee last September was shocking. To rephrase that line from "My Cousin Vinny": No self-respectin' coffee lover uses instant coffee.

I got my coffee training and education from Starbucks. We were clearly taught that if Starbucks was as close to godliness coffee could get; instant and flavored coffee were the devil.

Speaking of treasured coffee ...

Starbucks Christmas Blend, The Most Special Coffee

At Starbucks, as special as its whole bean coffees are, Christmas Blend has always been considered the most special. It has been blending Christmas Blend for 26 years. While we know it contains Latin American coffees and Aged Indonesian coffee, the rest of the recipe is a guarded secret.

Each year it is featured in custom-created packaging that serves as the center point for the Christmastime promotion. In fact, the packaging is reviewed and approved by Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz himself.

There was a time in the late 90s when customers would call to reserve pounds of Christmas Blend and stand in lines to pick it up. If, to a little kid, Christmas is all about Santa coming down the chimney delivering presents---that is the same anticipation folks had for Christmas Blend.

And Now ...

This month, Starbucks launches Christmas Blend as an instant coffee: Christmas Blend VIA Ready Brew. It has taken its highest form of coffee and produced it in the lowest format. It's "selling out" (compromise integrity) its most precious product.

Now what? It is a coup for VIA, but a bad day for Christmas Blend.

Too Much Too Soon?

So let's put aside my old school, purist, golden days at Starbucks. Anyhow, some think they blew that reputation when they started offering Frappuccino.

Let's say you're okay with instant coffee. And Christmas Blend---regular or instant---doesn't bother you.

As a marketer and/or product manager, from a strategic marketing perspective, is the VIA product team doing too much too soon?

VIA Ready Brew Timeline

Sept 09 Launch VIA with Italian Roast and Colombia varieties
Nov 09 Decaf Italian Roast
July 10 Pre-Sweetened, Iced
Oct 10 Flavored VIA - vanilla, mocha, caramel, and cinnamon spice
Nov 10 Christmas Blend VIA

Within 14 months they've done all there is to do with their new platform.

Other than adding more flavors and varieties---creating the Starbucks version of General Foods International Coffees---it doesn't seem there's anywhere else to go.

What do you think?

  • Am I too old school about Christmas Blend?

  • Does anyone associate Starbucks with the highest quality coffee anymore? Or is it all about convenience?

What about the timing and extensions of the VIA Ready Brew product?

  • Too much, too fast? Or would you have managed it the same way?

  • What about next year? What's left for VIA to offer?

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Hi there!

I'm Paul Williams... guest writer on Daily Fix and founder of Idea Sandbox.

I'm a professional problem solver. Through brainstorm facilitation I help people create remarkable ideas to grow their business. As one client put it, “Idea Sandbox turns brains into idea machines.”

Prior to launching Idea Sandbox in 2005, I spent 15 years building marketing, branding, and customer-experience strategy for The Disney Company, the Aramark Corporation, and Starbucks Coffee Company.

I founded Idea Sandbox driven by my passion to help others create remarkable ideas. I blend the skills and lessons I have learned to build a sandbox---an idea sandbox.

You can reach me on Twitter via @IdeaSandbox.

Through Idea Sandbox, I have helped solve challenges, grow brands, think-up remarkable ideas, and create innovation for companies including: Starbucks Coffee Company, Starbucks Coffee International, Panera Bread Company, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Woodhouse Day Spas, The Microsoft Corporation, and Wells Fargo Mortgage.

I am a writer, speaker, columnist, and brainstormer living just outside Washington DC, in Alexandria, Virginia.

If you like what you've read here, you can find more of my thoughts at my Idea Sandbox blog.

I always welcome comments and reactions to what I've written. I'm on Twitter: @IdeaSandbox

Nice to meet you,