Starbucks has announced that in June, you will soon be able to find flavored, pre-ground coffee in your local grocery store.  The three flavors are vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon, and the new coffee offering is called “Starbucks Natural Fusions.”

I’m not one to usually put up a blog post based on just an annoucement without knowing a little more, but this is a hot topic. There is a lot to talk about. For years, Starbucks has said that they would never flavor their coffees.  I have a half-way done blog post (which I’ve been working on for a week) and from it, I am pulling out this Howard Schultz quote:

We believe more strongly than ever that at the foundation of our continuing success lies the company’s two cornerstones: our coffee and our people.  We have created our niche in the marketplace in which we compete through our fanatical commitment to quality – choosing the highest quality coffees and brewing them by highly-trained individuals.  We have made it our goal to build value into everything we do.  This begins with selecting the most exquisite beans, delivering an exacting roast and offering tremendous expertise in all things coffee.

^ That paragraph, verbatim, can be found in the Starbucks 1993 Annual Shareholders’ Report.

It forces me to ask myself if this new coffee will live up to that lofty standard of being a product of a premier coffee roaster.  I know that I was initally skeptical of  Via Ready Brew, but was persuaded it was a good idea: It was an SSC partner (an SSC partner is a partner who works at the Starbucks headquarters) who brought me some to try (one week before available anywhere at all) and I had a change of heart about it at that moment.  I remember that day well because my supervisor walked in on us, and got to try it too, and raved about how good Via was upon tasting it.  I decided that it was a good cup of coffee, and it could fulfill a niche.

This has me a little more nervous because it is so far removed from putting really amazing blends on the shelf, like the newest Starbucks creation, 3 Region Blend.  I am left puzzled: Is this a coffee that gets cupped? How do we talk about the processing method? What is this?  Would you ever make a French press of this flavored coffee?

Though I have a confession to make too.  From 2001 to 2004, I lived in San Francisco.  During that time, I stumbled upon, and fell in love with Ghirardelli chocolate flavored coffee.  I was playing tourist at Ghirardelli Square, and found this coffee in the gift shop.  I confess, I bought this many times between 2001 to 2004.  It was so good; I couldn’t resist.  However, Ghirardelli doesn’t have a brand image tied up in being the “premium purveyor of coffee.”

So as you can see, I have a lot of conflicted feelings and concerns about this new product launch.  Mostly, it seems as though it is too far from the kind of image that Starbucks is trying to maintain.

The floor is now yours : What do you think of this new offering?