Is 1 of These Drinks Starbucks' Next Unicorn Frappuccino?

The company has some unique offerings in Asia that may have big potential in the United States.

Daniel B. Kline
Daniel B. Kline
Jun 7, 2017 at 9:34AM
Consumer Goods

The Unicorn Frappuccino became a viral hit for Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) at least partly because it was different than the chain's typical offering. The vibrantly hued, flavor-shifting, color-changing drink stood out for its look, getting people to sample it even if they assumed it would be less than delicious. That's a unique way to connect with an audience, but the limited-edition drink, which was only around for a few days, apparently brought in customers Starbucks typically struggles to reach.

Because the Unicorn Frappuccino contained no coffee, it appealed to families, perhaps reminding them that the chain offers beverages for kids. That means the impact of the drink may be felt on the company's bottom line, not just for a few days, but with an increase in the size of the company's customer base.

In addition, the hit limited-edition drink became a weapon Starbucks can deploy when it needs a sales lift.

The Unicorn Frappuccino perfected a model Starbucks has been experimenting with for years. Instead of being a seasonal drink offered for months, it had a very-limited window of availability. That's something the chain has tried before, but never with this success. Going forward, the company will almost certainly try to find more over-the-top stunt drinks to add to its arsenal and it's possible that it won't have to look any further than its own Frappuccino lineup in Asia.

Starbucks' Banana Split Frappuccino

Starbucks has introduced some unique flavors in Asia, including the Banana Split Frappuccino. Image source: Starbucks.

Oddly delicious?

Different markets across the world like different things. Bubble tea, for example, (hot or cold teas with tapioca balls added for chewy texture) is ubiquitous in Taiwan while it's a novelty in the United States. The same might be said for apple-pie flavor, which is an American staple with little penetration in Japan.

The idea of a drink having texture is perhaps not unknown to Americans, but it's certainly less popular than it is in Asia. That led Starbucks to create three drinks specific (for now) to that market that incorporate what the company called in a press release "a whole sensory experience" that incorporates "a wider range of unique textures."

The drinks, which rolled out June 6 across Asia, are limited offerings. They include unique elements mixed with familiar flavors.

  • Irish Cream Coffee Pudding Frappuccino: This literally uses a chewy coffee pudding that the company adds Irish Cream flavor to before topping it with espresso whipped cream and espresso powder.
  • Earl Grey Jelly Frappuccino: A layer of green tea makes this bright green drink stand out. The company then makes a jelly layer out of Earl Grey, which it tops with whipped cream and Matcha powder.

  • Banana Split Frappuccino: Starbucks calls this one "a drinkable ice cream sundae." The beverage base mixes strawberry whipped cream, banana, and mocha that is topped with vanilla whipped cream along with waffle pieces.

Will these drinks come to the U.S.?

Starbucks has not announced any plans to bring these beverages to the U.S., but it's not uncommon for a chain to try something in one market before releasing it elsewhere. The coffee company's entire concept began with former CEO and current Chairman Howard Schultz's desire to bring Italian-style cafes to America.

Two of these three flavors involve a chewy aspect that Americans don't normally associate with drinks, but none of the flavors are unfamiliar to the U.S. audience. In fact, none of these Frappuccinos would seem odd if they were introduced domestically right now.

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These are tastes Americans understand delivered in a novel fashion. That's a recipe for the next viral hit if the company decides to bring these concepts, or variations on them, to its home market.