NEW YORK — Starbucks wants you to try coffee with olive oil. Indeed.
The chain of cafes releases a new line of drinks with extra virgin olive oil. To be clear, the drinks are not simply flavored with olive oil, nor do they have just a hint of it. Each one is actually made with a spoonful of butter, adding 120 calories to the total. With some drinks, you can see the 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 in Italy starting this week. Each has Oleato in its name, the Starbucks word for the new line.
There’s an Oleato latte with oat milk and olive oil, an Oleato iced espresso with oat milk, hazelnut flavor and olive oil, and an Oleato cooler with golden foam, made with a version of Starbucks’ sweet milk foam with two shots of olive oil. Versions of these drinks will arrive in Southern California this spring, with more details on the US release to follow. This year they will enter other markets in the UK, the Middle East and Japan.
Like other large chains, Starbucks often adjusts its menu, seasonally releasing limited editions or introducing new ingredients such as oat milk. But this launch is much bigger, Brady Brewer, chief marketing officer for Starbucks, told CNN.
“This is one of the biggest launches in decades,” he noted. “It’s really a platform, not a flavoring or a product,” he said, noting that customers will be able to use olive oil to customize some drinks.
The company is betting that people will hear about the mix and try it because they want to know what it tastes like. And maybe because they’ve heard about the benefits of extra virgin olive oil.
With Oleato, Starbucks is going out on a limb. Adding fat to coffee is not new. You can do it the old fashioned way, with cream or milk, or even butter. Recipes for coffee with olive oil exist on the Internet.
But consumers certainly don’t demand 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 disillusioned with the company that they’re unionizing, are already struggling with complex drink orders.
So why is Starbucks launching this big new line? Two words: Howard Schultz.
It comes full circle
Last year, Schultz met olive oil producer Tomas Asaro, who introduced him to the practice of consuming a tablespoon of olive oil every day. Schultz learned more about the practice this summer during a visit to Sicily, then took up the habit himself. He wondered if he could fit it in with his daily coffee routine.
“When we got together and started doing this ritual, I said [Asaro]I know you think I’m crazy, but have you ever thought about putting a tablespoon of olive oil in your Starbucks coffee?” Schultz, who currently serves as CEO of Starbucks, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “He thought that it’s not surprising.” Asaro is chairman of United Olive Oil, through which Starbucks supplies its olive oil.
For Schulz, making business decisions based on visits to Italy is not new.
Schultz came to Starbucks in 1982, 11 years after the first Starbucks store opened (the original Starbucks sold whole coffee beans). Back in 1982, Starbucks was still a small company with four stores. Schultz, who became director of operations and marketing, visited Milan in 1983 and became fascinated by the city’s cafe culture. The rest, he says, is history.
“My journey at Starbucks will conclude when I return to Milan later this month to introduce something much bigger than any new promotion or drink,” Schultz said on a February call with analysts, teasing the new line.
Speaking to CNN’s Harlow, he predicted the new platform would “change the coffee industry” and be “a very profitable addition to the company.”
It’s one thing to play with the idea of adding olive oil to coffee on a whim, but another to come up with a range of drinks that can attract customers from all over the world.
To do this, Schultz turned to his Starbucks team in Seattle, where the headquarters of the coffee chain is located. There they had to figure out how to make coffee with olive oil taste good.
A unique case
As a general rule, Starbucks doesn’t come up with 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 have been whittled down to three that are now available at Italian Starbucks cafes. (The Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan will serve five Oleato drinks, including a deconstructed espresso drink, an iced cortada and an espresso martini, all of which contain olive oil).
In 2018, Starbucks opened its first location in Italy, a roastery, and the decision was met with raised eyebrows by locals. But five years later, she managed to expand in the country. for the launch of Oleato, Schultz is back in Italy to see how the Italians react. – And if they don’t like it? – asked Harlow. In that case, “I’m not going back to Seattle,” Schultz quipped.
In recent years, beverage companies have included ingredients such as turmeric or CBD in their recipes, which customers believe are beneficial or have certain benefits, such as promoting sleep. Starbucks doesn’t make any health claims about Oleato, but hopes that people will see it as a healthy choice through their own research.
And those extra 120 calories? “We don’t see it as a hindrance,” Brewer said. “We’re not too concerned about that.”
Brewer and Schultz also dismissed some other concerns.
As for the likelihood of people shelling out the extra cash for oil, Brewer said customers see Starbucks as an “affordable luxury.” In the last three months of 2022, sales at Starbucks stores open at least 13 months jumped 5% worldwide, despite higher prices.
From Brewer and Schultz’s point of view, the only risk is that the drinks don’t taste right.
The proof, they say, is in the cup.
In New York, this reporter tried four Oleato drinks: a hot oat milk latte, a cold kvass with golden foam, an oat milk and hazelnut espresso with ice, and an iced cortado similar to what they serve at a Milanese roastery.
I could see the oil in cold drinks – it gave the cold foam a pale green tint and appeared as a thin bubbly layer on top of shaken espressos and cortados.
Everyone liked it from the first sip. In my opinion, the golden foam of the cold brew had the strongest flavor of the olive oil – nutty, sweet and amazing, as promised. I could detect it in the cortado and espresso in a more subtle way. I couldn’t taste it at all in a hot latte.
But after a few sips of each, it felt like too much.
I usually drink regular coffee with plant-based milk, preferably unsweetened. So, sweet, cold drinks – especially shaken espressos and cortadas – felt like a wonderful treat. They would have been great without the olive oil, which seemed like an unnecessary flourish.
Starbucks describes the drinks as lush and velvety, thanks to the oil. But for me, they just started to feel burdensome. And for some time after I tasted the drink, I could feel the oil on my lips.
As it turns out, I prefer olive oil with my food. Starbucks will have to wait to see if most people disagree.