Starbucks marketing to the kiddies
New non-coffee drinks open world of Starbucks to children
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 11, 2006 12:00 AM
When Starbucks employees handed out free samples of the company's new tangerine- and pomegranate-flavored drinks at a July 4 celebration at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix, it was the second time in about a month that the coffee giant appeared at a Valley event that draws families.
At the end of May, the company sponsored a free day at the Phoenix Zoo, where it handed out samples of Banana Coconut Frappuccino and Bananas and Creme Frappuccino, which were Starbucks' newest drinks at the time. Everyone left the event with a $5 Starbucks gift card.
While the company isn't overtly marketing to kids at these events, as doing so would violate Seattle-based Starbucks' promise not to advertise to youngsters, children flock to the samples of the non-coffee drinks because they look just like smoothies, slushies and milkshakes they've had elsewhere. Plus they are cold, colorful, fruity and piled with whipped cream in some cases.
Some say that Starbucks, traditionally a coffee joint for grown-ups, may be trying to grow its business by making some of its drinks appealing to kids to ensure that they are customers for life.
Handing out samples to promote a product isn't a new idea for Starbucks.
The coffee giant will sometimes run promotions inside its stores, said Karlyn Moore, a Phoenix-based marketing manager for Starbucks in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Starbucks has about 100 stores in the Valley and about 130 in the state. In the past, the company has given away bags of Tazo Calm Tea on tax day and cups of its Christmas coffee around the holidays.
But by taking its promotions outside of the stores, where the customers are mostly adults and increasingly teenagers, Starbucks can reach a wider variety of customers, including kids. Starbucks stores exude an adult atmosphere with their earth-toned interiors and soft music by Norah Jones playing in the background. There is no menu dedicated to kids, no cartoon characters to lure them to the drinks. But outside of the stores, Starbucks doesn't have to be so buttoned-up.
Not marketed to children
"This was just a way for us to have fun outside our stores," Moore said of the banana drink promotion at Phoenix Zoo. "We, as a company, have not marketed to children."
Starbucks isn't the only coffee chain selling drinks that could be appealing to kids. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which has 11 stores around the Valley, has similar items on its menu and is even giving away ice-blended drinks to kids who bring their report cards into the stores through Saturday.
At last month's AVP Hermosa Beach Open 2006, a professional beach volleyball tournament, kids flocked to the frothy non-coffee samples handed out at a Starbucks promotion.
Starbucks workers were careful to separate those drinks from the coffee-drink samples, which were a hit with parents.
It's not a stretch to think that the adults, many of whom were probably Starbucks customers, have since then caved to their kids' demands for more of the banana drink.
Among the qualms that some have against Starbucks drinks, whether consumed by kids or adults, are nutritional value (a medium-sized Bananas and Creme Frappuccino with whipped cream packs in 15 grams of fat and 550 calories) and price (the same drink costs about $4, depending on the store's location).
Going to Starbucks is a family affair for Michelle Hudson, her husband and their three kids. Once a week, usually on Saturday or Sunday mornings, the Phoenix family gets its fix. Her two youngest kids, Hannah, 9, and Zachary, 12, typically split a grande Vanilla Bean Frappuccino Blended Creme topped with whipped cream.
She isn't concerned about whether they're getting hooked on Starbucks at an early age because it is already a way of life for her husband and her.
"It keeps them happy when we get our coffee," said Hudson, 38, who usually orders a non-fat caramel latte. "At least Starbucks has something for them."
The vanilla drink that her two youngest kids split, which Hudson says is "like a dessert," isn't made with coffee.
"If they did ask for a cup of coffee, I would probably frown on that," Hudson said. "There's too many other options for them there."
Nothing beats a cookie
Betsy Seibert, director of sponsorship and promotion at the Phoenix Zoo, said Starbucks' recent promotion at the zoo was a way to let people know that the company sells more than coffee.
"The whole family can go to Starbucks," Seibert said. "The zoo is a great fit because we have the entire family here."
Some parents think the flavors of some Starbucks drinks are too sophisticated for kids.
On a recent morning, Robin Shugar and her 4-year-old daughter, Lindsay, met Lisa Berman and her 18-month-old son, Alex, at a Starbucks in Phoenix. The mothers sipped iced-coffee drinks while Lindsay had a cookie and water.
The mothers are Starbucks regulars who meet up at the coffee shop at least once a week, but they never buy specialty drinks for their kids. Starbucks' newest crop of frozen concoctions, especially the pomegranate drink, doesn't seem to appeal to their children, the women said.
Shugar sized up her daughter's interest in the beverage: "She wouldn't touch it."
Reporter Dawn Gilbertson contributed to this report. Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-7353.