Starbucks Sorbetto: The 2008 delicious test product that didn’t make it.(A piece of Starbucks history)

Starbucks‘ Sorbetto is long gone. It’s never coming back. It was briefly tested in a few stores north of Seattle.  Then it moved to a widespread test in Los Angeles and Orange County.  I tried it in both places; Since I regularly travel to Orange County I had it there only a few months after trying it in the small test area north of Seattle.

I absolutely loved Sorbetto.  There was a “tropical tangy creme” flavor and a “berry pink citrus” flavor.  The test of this product began in about the Spring or Summer of 2008 north of Seattle.  By the Summer of 2008, it was launched over many regions of Southern California.  The Seattle Times made a very brief reference to the launch of Sorbetto in “Los Angeles area stores” on July 15, 2008 (you have to scroll to the bottom of the article to find the Sorbetto mention).

Roughly one year later, Starbucks gave up on Sorbetto.  Melissa Allison’s Coffee City blog mentions it here:

So the real question is why did this great beverage fail? Was it not yummy? It was absolutely delicious. Lots of people liked it.  Products can come and go for reasons that do not directly relate to their deliciousness.  Here’s my theory on why this treat was a failure: it was launched right at the beginning of the recession.  The economy tanked. Starbucks closed stores, yet launched a relatively expensive beverage which was offered in a ten-ounce cup (I remember the cup size because it was such an odd size).  The beverage was a bit ambiguous between being a beverage and a dessert.  The machines required to make the beverage in the store were a terrible problem.  They were incredibly labor-intensive to clean.  They took up a lot of precious counter space.  They looked like a big Slurpee machine which created a very poor 7-11 type image for Starbucks.  All in all, it just didn’t add up.  It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t delicious. It just meant that it didn’t work for Starbucks.

I hadn’t planned on writing a blog post on Sorbetto, but I was looking at some pics saved on my work computer and I realized that I had four old photos which gave an idea of what Sorbetto was like.  They are very poor quality pics – sorry about that – I took them with an old phone that I no longer use.  While I completely recognize that Sorbetto is never coming back to Starbucks (and in truth, we all know that Starbucks tries out all kinds of things that don’t make it to a nation-wide launch) I thought it was an interesting part of Starbucks history to tell.

I recall that with the Southern California launch of Sorbetto there were blue Sorbetto barista aprons for that area.  I would love to have one for my collection.  I am putting a shout-out here hoping that someone will contact me with an apron that they have for sale or would want to just give away.

Also, if you like reading about Starbucks test products, here is this blog’s link with more info on Starbucks tests: blog category on test products.

Did any of my readers ever get to try this?  What did you think?

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  • Nob

    I wanted to try it. I drank Vivanno many times, but was not able to try Sorbetto. I thought that it would be good drink for summer. Also I’m interested in new Vivanno.

  • purple1

    This drink totally escaped me and I do not remember it being on the east coast. I find it so interesting to see what SB they decide to test these new products.

  • Kaori

    I’m sorry I missed that! Looks like a yummy drink ;-D

  • john moore (from Brand Autopsy)

    Nice job listing reasons why Sorbetto failed. It’s failure probably has more to do with the operational issues you mentioned than the economic downturn.

    Something to keep in mind, any test beverage introduced by SBUX must pass a “USD threshold” for it to be rolled out nationally. (USD = units per store per day.) That USD threshold is probably a minimum of 20 to 25. So if a test beverage fails to sell more than 25 units per store per day, then it probably isn’t worth the time and money for SBUX to roll it out nationally.

  • CD

    @John Moore – While totally different in that one is a frozen treat and the other an iced beverage, the new “green coffee” drinks that they are testing now seem similar to these Sorbetto offerings in some respects. Does the USD threshold change based on the need for special equipment, or are those costs factored into the cost of the beverage and all new beverages need to meet a standard USD range?

  • john moore (from Brand Autopsy)

    CD … for a drink that requires new equipment across all stores then the USD threshold would probably change. However, it depends on the price of the drink because such costs should be rolled into the price of the drink.

  • darkkatpouncing

    The Sorbetto sounds like the perfect summer cool off drink. I think it makes sense that the drink wasn’t a go if the machine used to make it was bulky and problematic. I would think that if the drink was that yummy they would have found a way to make the machine more streamlined and more user/cleaning friendly. It may be unrealistic to put more time into a smaller more visually appealing appliance for the sake of alternative drinks for a coffee shop but I feel it would be worth it to invest as much time in that direction as the drink itself. *thoughtful*

  • Chase

    I’ve gotta say I was not sad to see Sorbetto go. It was such a labor hog to clean and really, a giant pain. Loud and ugly, it didn’t fit at all!

    The clover on the other hand is really the way I want to go!

  • DadCooks

    Once again you have provided a very interesting blog post. Your analysis/conclusion as to reasons for the demise of the Sorbetto are right on, IMHO.

  • Jeff Carroll

    Sorbetto was sooo good. I miss it so! Great post, Mel. :)

  • Melody

    @JohnMoore @JeffCarroll @DadCooks @Chase –

    @JohnMoore – Thanks for stopping by the blog. This whole process of testing things fascinates me. I loved the Honey Vanilla Vivanno but heard from a DM that they sold just way too few to launch it.

    @Chase @DadCooks and @JohnMoore – Coincidentally I was downtown and chatting with a barista who transfered to a downtown Seattle store from a store that at one time had Sorbetto! Coincidentally, (what great timing to run into her today after posting this), her take was the reason that Sorbetto didn’t launch was almost entirely related to the horrible big machines. Chase, she said she hated how awful they were to clean!

    I did think it was an ambiguous beverage – Straw or spoon? Half way between a dessert and drink, but yeah, the Sorbetto machine was the reason for its demise. :(

    @JeffCarroll – Glad you liked it too. It was to date, my favorite of all test products I’ve tried.

  • Amy B.

    what was the diffference between these sorbettos and the fruit smoothies that Starbucks had?


    Sorbetto was one of the best drinks I’ve ever had at a Starbucks. I only got to try it twice during a visit to LA. I would happily surrender my Pike Place partner card and my favorite black apron to have it just one more time…

  • Pam

    Chantico, anyone?

  • CD

    @Pam – I <3 Chantico! RIP

  • Melody

    @Bayareabux – Those are poweful words! Anyway, I loved Sorbetto just as much as you did almost. I’d probably give up some precious Starbucks collectible to have Sorbetto offered at my local Starbucks!
    @Pam & @CD – I confess I wasn’t such a Chantico fan, but boy there were some die-hard lovers of it. I remember clearly it being in the store and wish I had taken some photos from that era of Starbucks.

  • LatteRose

    I liked Chantico, wish it was still around. I do like the regular hot chocolate – good on a chilly day!

  • denise r

    I know a couple people who would still die for Chantico. I still think, at least around here (Chicago) they launched it at the wrong tme of yr……it was at the very ending of winter, when everyone was beleagured and thinking of spring. imo, they should have brought it out, i this area, right in the begining of winter, or at least the beginning of January. They wait too late on ‘seasonal’ stuff. (stuff?) :)

    Back to your topic of Sorbetto, it counds very good but I never saw it, never had it. If it’s that large and labour intensive, I would rather see a Clover (assuming there’s coffee for it).

  • French Bean

    Nope! I never saw it when I was in Miami (which is an ideal city for cold drinks).

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