Bland New "Seattle's Best" Logo Positions Starbucks' Brand For Foodservice Dominance

Last Updated May 13, 2010 9:27 AM EDT

New Seattles Best Coffee logoStarbucks Corp. (SBUX) has spent a long time figuring out what to do with the Seattle's Best Coffee brand it acquired in 2003. It finally showed its hand today with the unveiling of a nondescript new SBC logo clearly intended to blend into the background at the 30,000 foodservice locations the company plans to score by the end of September.

Foodservice giants such as Aramark better watch out: Starbucks is coming for you.

The original logo (seen at left) looked a bit like an award medal, reminding consumers of how the brand got its name (by winning a local coffee tasting contest). It communicated quality. The new husband walked by my computer while I was writing this, and his reaction was: "That looks like a toilet bowl!"

But seriously, the new logo furthers Starbucks' goal of putting SBC everywhere Starbucks stores aren't. The stripped-down logo stands in marked contrast to Starbucks' own green one, and seems designed to help keep the public ignorant of the fact that SBC is a Starbucks division.

We should have seen the branding change coming, though. Starbucks is already halfway to its 30,000-location goal after scoring deals to put SBC into the Burger King (BKC) and Subway chains. Clearly, they needed to avoid the brand clash their distinctive, ornate old SBC logo might cause at bright-yellow Subway, for instance. The new institutional-style look will better play second fiddle to the dominant location brand at places such as AMC Theatres (AMC), where Starbucks scored a 300-location deal this week.

No word yet from the owners of 500 franchised SBC stores and kiosks on what they think of the rebranding. The SBC stores have never really caught on -- an average of roughly 60 a year have been added each year since Starbucks bought the brand, which in Starbucks terms is ultra-pokey-slow growth. In February, SBC relaunched its franchising effort, but don't expect that to get very far. It's hard to imagine customers flocking to coffeehouses bearing this generic-looking signage to drink specialty coffee.

Here's an interesting twist on the new logo and SBC's repositioning: As it happens, Aramark delivers both Starbucks and SBC coffees to its clients. We'll see how long that continues now that Starbucks appears to be repositioning itself to go after foodservice clients on its own. Starbucks may not really gain 30,000 new locations through this move in the end, if Aramark drops them.

New logo image courtesy of Starbucks Corp.; Old logo via Flickr user psd

  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.