With Logo Change, Starbucks Now an Emporium of Pastries and Drinkable Desserts

Last Updated Jan 6, 2011 3:40 PM EST

Starbucks (SBUX) has changed its logo to exorcise any mention of the word coffee, signaling what customers already know -- most of the drinks served up at Starbucks bear only a passing resemblance to coffee. Many of them come with whipped cream and some kind of syrup drizzled on top. And they have heaps of sugar, making those multi-colored packets at the self-serve bar nearly obsolete.

And it's been this way for some time. When Starbucks started expanding outside of Seattle in the 90's, it set new quality standards and redefined what coffee was supposed to taste like. But its success quickly became more about sweetened espresso drinks than straight up brewed coffee or basic lattes. It added one frou-frou drink after another, including some that have no coffee at all. Now if a coffee snob like me wants a real espresso drink at Starbucks, I have to ask for them to hold the whipped cream and sprinkles and add additional shots.

For all his love of the authentic Italian cafes that supposedly inspired him, CEO Howard Schultz figured out early on that most people care more about sweetened, foamy, warm milk than they do about old school coffee. But they like the idea of coffee -- the smell and the vibe of coffee shops.

And this is why the logo change is so risky. In highlighting the green mermaid image, it's really only an amplification of what was already there, which is good. But taking away the words "Starbucks Coffee" chips away at the idea of what Starbucks is supposed to be. If the company isn't about coffee anymore, what does it stand for? Sweetened foam? Brownie bars?

The new logo ties into Starbucks' broader plans for expansion, which carry their own risks. With aggressive competition from McDonald's (MCD), Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts effectively turning coffee into a commodity, Starbucks wants to broaden its horizons. In August, the company announced it will use stores as a launching pad for branded food and beverage items that will then be sold in supermarkets, though they've yet to offer specifics on what those products will be.

The problem is that Starbucks hasn't managed to branch out successfully in the past. Remember books, movies and CDs? Starbucks was even going to start a record label. Food items certainly make more sense, but it's still a leap.

Howard Schultz would probably argue that he isn't abandoning Starbucks coffee heritage. He'd probably point out that company made a big push for its new Pike Place brew and jumped into the market for instant coffee with Via. But Pike Place is a flavorless, middle-of-the-road coffee that seems designed to appeal to everyone and delight no one. And don't even get me started on instant.

Image by naddel@weltfrauschaft
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