New York (CNN) Starbucks wants you to try the olive oil coffee. Really.
The coffee chain is launching a new range of drinks made with extra virgin olive oil. To be clear, the drinks aren’t just flavored with olive oil, and they don’t just have a hint of it. Each is actually made with a dollop of oil, adding 120 calories in total. With some drinks, you can see a slippery sheen of oil in the cup, and you don’t even have to squint.
Three olive oil drinks are available for sale at Starbucks cafes in Italy starting this week. Each includes Oleato, Starbucks’ word for the new line, in its name.
There’s an Oleato latte with oat milk and olive oil, an Oleato iced espresso with oat milk, hazelnut flavor and olive oil, and the infusion cold of Oleato golden foam, made with a version of Starbucks’ sweetened milk foam infused with two servings of olive oil. Versions of these drinks will arrive in Southern California this spring, with more details on the US launch to come. They will roll out to other markets in the UK, Middle East and Japan this year.
Like other major chains, Starbucks changes its menu often, offering limited-edition items seasonally or introducing new ingredients like oat milk. But this launch is much bigger, Brady Brewer, Starbucks chief marketing officer, told CNN.
“This is one of the biggest launches we’ve had in decades,” he noted. “Rather than a flavor or a product, it’s really a platform,” he said, which means customers will be able to use olive oil to customize certain drinks.
The company is betting people will hear about the concoction and try it because they want to know what it tastes like. And, maybe, because they’ve heard that extra virgin olive oil has health benefits.
With Oleato, Starbucks takes risks. Adding fat to coffee is nothing new. You can do it the old-fashioned way, with cream or milk, or even butter. Olive oil coffee recipes exist online.
But consumers are certainly not asking for coffee with olive oil. And Starbucks is launching the line at a time when supply chains are fragile, consumers are watching their budgets and baristas, some of whom are so frustrated with the company that they’re joining a union, are already struggling with orders of complicated drinks.
So why is Starbucks launching this major new line? Two words: Howard Schultz.
To buckle the buckle
Last year, Schultz met olive oil producer Tommaso Asaro, who introduced him to the practice of consuming a tablespoon of olive oil each day. Schultz learned more about the practice this summer during a visit to Sicily, then picked up the habit himself. He wondered if he could combine it with his daily coffee routine.
“When we got together and started doing this ritual, I said to (Asaro), I know you think I’m going crazy, but have you ever thought of infusing a tablespoon of oil with olive with Starbucks coffee?” Schultz, currently interim CEO of Starbucks, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “He thought it was a bit strange.” Asaro is the chairman of United Olive Oil, through which Starbucks sources its olive oil.
For Schultz, making business decisions based on visits to Italy is nothing new.
Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982, 11 years after the first Starbucks store opened (the original Starbucks sold whole coffee beans). In 1982, Starbucks was still a small company, with four stores in total. Schultz, who had come on board as director of operations and marketing, visited Milan in 1983 and fell in love with the city’s cafe culture. The rest, he says, is history.
“My Starbucks trip will come full circle when I return to Milan later this month to introduce something far more important than any new promotion or beverage,” Schultz said on an analyst call in February. , teasing the new line.
Speaking to CNN’s Harlow, he predicted the new platform will “transform the coffee industry” and be “a very profitable new addition to the business”.
It’s one thing to toy with the idea of adding olive oil to coffee on a whim, and quite another to come up with a range of drinks that can attract customers from all over the world.
For that, Schultz turned to his Starbucks team in Seattle, where the coffee chain is headquartered. There they had to figure out how to make coffee with olive oil good.
A unique case
As a general rule, Starbucks does not release new drinks based on the CEO’s ideas.
“It’s a pretty unique case,” Brewer told CNN. But, he noted, “we have ideas that come from everywhere.”
The Starbucks beverage team came up with about 12 options, which were narrowed down to the three that are now available at Starbucks’ Italian cafes. (The Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan will serve five Oleato drinks, including a deconstructed espresso drink, an iced cortado and an espresso martini, all of which contain olive oil).
Starbucks opened its first Italian location, the roastery, in 2018, a move that raised eyebrows among locals. But five years later, he managed to develop in the country. for the launch of Oleato, Schultz is again in Italy to see how the Italians react. “What if they don’t like it?” Harlow asked. In that case, “I won’t be coming back to Seattle,” Schultz joked.
In recent years, beverage companies have incorporated ingredients like turmeric or CBD into their recipes, which customers consider to be healthy or to provide certain benefits, such as aiding sleep. Starbucks makes no health claims with Oleato, but hopes that people, through their own research, will come to see it as a healthy choice.
And those extra 120 calories? “We didn’t see that as a barrier,” Brewer said. “We’re not too worried about it.”
Brewer and Schultz dismissed some of the other challenges as well.
And as for the likelihood of people shelling out extra money for the oil, Brewer said customers see Starbucks as “affordable luxury.” In the last three months of 2022, sales at Starbucks stores that have been open for at least 13 months jumped 5% globally, despite higher prices.
According to Brewer and Schultz, the only risk is that the drinks won’t taste.
The proof, they say, is in the cup.
The taste test
In New York, this reporter got to sample four Oleato drinks: the hot oat milk latte, the cold brew with golden froth, the iced oat milk and hazelnut espresso, and an ice cold cortado like the one served at the Milan roastery.
I could see the oil in the cold drinks – it gave the cold froth a pale green hue and appeared as a thin fizzy layer on the shaken espresso and cortado.
From the first sip, I loved them all. To me, the golden foam from the cold brew had the strongest taste of olive oil – nutty and sweet and surprising, as promised. I could detect it in cortado and espresso in a more subtle way. In the hot latte, I couldn’t really taste it at all.
But after a few sips of each, it was too much.
I usually drink regular coffee with plant-based milk, preferably unsweetened. So the sugary cold drinks – the shaken espresso and cortado, in particular – felt like a delicious indulgence. They would have been great without the olive oil, which seemed like an unnecessary frill.
Starbucks describes the drinks as lush and velvety, thanks to the oil. But for me, they just started to feel weighed down. And for a while after trying the drinks, I could smell the oil on my lips.
Turns out I prefer my olive oil with food. Starbucks will have to wait and see if most people disagree.