Starbucks Just Got Sillier

Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) may have come out with its silliest idea yet to improve its lagging profitability; it's backing away from the policy of automatically brewing up decaf coffee for the afternoon crowd.

Need I explain why this seems strange? Caffeine is a stimulant; it can keep you awake at night. I'm one of those people who benefits from trying to reduce my intake at some point in the p.m. time frame (even though I rarely ratchet back early enough). Yesterday, I contemplated running out into the snow screaming, which was a result of nervous energy from being a little too jacked up on caffeine. Whoops.

Seriously, afternoon seems like a pretty good time to have decaf on hand for overly jangled patrons, right?

The memo about the change claims the demand for decaf in the afternoon is low and that the current way of doing things results in "high waste." Fortunately for decaf fans, customers who request it will receive the decaf option, but the baristas will have to take the time to brew it fresh.

Still, I just don't get it. Starbucks has vowed to be all about coffee in its urge to reinvigorate its business, and decaf is certainly part of the coffee lover's universe. OK, so you can't get hash browns and Egg McMuffins at McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) in the afternoon (that's kind of a bummer, in my book), but McDonald's has never claimed it's all about the breakfast food, after all. I'm sure there's not too much demand for PepsiCo's (NYSE: PEP  ) high-caffeine Mountain Dew after 8 p.m., but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be available for say, college students on all-nighters or diehard caffeine freaks.

As I've said before, I'm a shareholder and basically a believer in Starbucks' business, but that doesn't mean I don't get critical, and some of its moves have started to strike me as clueless; this one seems clueless and a bit desperate. Starbucks reports its quarterly results tonight after market close; I hope to see some strategies and initiatives that seem a bit more innovative than ditching decaf.

Pour yourself some related Foolishness:

Starbucks has been recommended by both Motley Fool Inside Value and Stock Advisor. PepsiCo is an Income Investor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (11)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2009, at 2:09 PM, KennyO wrote:

    A tempest in a ... coffepot. They're probably doing this to avoid dumping untouched pots of decaf every thirty minutes in how-many-thousand stores. It sounds to me like one of their less frequent smart moves.

    If you order decaf it's a small inconvenience to wait for a freshly brewed decaf. If you're getting worked up about the wait you probably really do need the decaf.

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2009, at 2:13 PM, pegasusken wrote:

    Coincidentally, I was in a Coffee Bean and Tea store in LA last week and they are already doing the same thing. They said that there is very little demand in the pm for decaf and they wasted most of the pot they make every hour.The custom brew was ready practically instantly so there was basically no wait....and it was fresh. And they were generous in the amount of coffee they used for the brew.

    I think it's a great idea. Sorry Fool.

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2009, at 4:22 PM, ShortStockFiend wrote:

    I dont quite see how this is a bad move. I agree that this seems to be a move to eliminate waste, sounds like our current economy. I think you actually argue against your point, I would place bets that the demand for Soda is high in the evening especially for a society which has primetime that starts around 9pm. Or for all those college students that sleep around 2 am because of class is not until 10am. But who knows perhaps the evil caffiene corporations have manageg to convince us that we still need more! Have they not seen the latest statistic for Second hand Caffiene?

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2009, at 4:28 PM, seanoneill01 wrote:

    Sounds like a good idea to me; hardly worth a motley memo. Of course, then again, as a coffee drinker, and SBUX shareholder, I don't really ever drink de-caf. ONce its coffee hour for me, I just don't bother. De-caf coffee, light beer, and low-fat ice cream all seem like pointless consumption to me. Why bother?

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2009, at 4:34 PM, seanoneill01 wrote:

    Sounds like a good idea to me; hardly worth a motley memo. Of course, then again, as a coffee drinker, and SBUX shareholder, I don't really ever drink de-caf. ONce its after coffee hour for me, I just don't bother. De-caf coffee, light beer, and low-fat ice cream all seem like pointless consumption to me. Why bother?

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2009, at 5:08 PM, Qwoan wrote:

    Seems to me that were they to follow Goldratt's Theory of Constraints, they'd simply brew up _smaller_ batches of decaf. Thereby always having enough decaf "inventory" available, but not wasting an entire gallon of the stuff.

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2009, at 5:39 PM, mberan wrote:

    SBUX, always doing what's right for their customers...or so they say! No Decaf, it's what's right for their customers. They know best.

    SBUX...always over roasted, over priced, and over hyped. This one's deader than their old cofee

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2009, at 3:27 PM, artistx wrote:

    Great idea, less wasteful, saves money. They could always offer a decaf Americano (espresso and hot water) for those in a hurry.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2009, at 4:11 PM, theBilgeFather wrote:

    I work at Starbucks. After 9AM it is not uncommon to go 6 hours without selling one cup of Decaf. Customers that want Decaf don't mind waiting 4 minutes for a fresh cup. Investors (I am one myself) should be thrilled that Starbucks has decided to waste less coffee. McDonalds would make you wait for a 20 piece chicken mcNugget order at 4 PM. If Starbucks wants to offer Fresh Coffee then they can't guarantee that it will be constantly ready. Gas station coffee is always ready. They brew it at 10 AM and let it sit all day!

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2009, at 12:53 PM, Deepfryer wrote:

    It's a great idea. No one likes decaf anyway.

    This will reduce waste, and save time and money for the company. Plus, freshly brewed coffee tastes better, so this will actually result in a better product for the decaf drinkers of the world. If you really can't bear to wait a couple minutes for your decaf, you can order a hot chocolate instead.

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