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Starbucks Wants to Be a Pop Star

By Rick Munarriz - Apr 17, 2013 at 7:00PM

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The java giant is testing carbonated drinks at some of its Seattle stores. Bring on the spiced root beer!

Starbucks (SBUX 2.03%) has tackled teas and juices as it expands its reach in the realm of premium beverages. It's next strategic sip may be a carbonated affair.

The baron of baristas is testing handcrafted sodas at some of its Seattle stores. The Starbucks Melody fan blog details the spiced root beer, lemon ale, and ginger ale sodas that are now available.

Armed with CO2, the test stores are also offering sparkling iced teas and Starbucks Refreshers. Yes, Starbucks is getting busy with the fizzy, and if the products prove popular, it's only a matter of time before your coffee-hating companion tags along on your next Starbucks visit for a venti-sized spiced root beer.

Will this make Starbucks too complicated? The beverage menu continues to expand, and one has to wonder if the growing assortment of drinks will make it harder to train baristas or hamper the speed of service. In the end, Starbucks wouldn't be doing this if it didn't think it would be in the best interests of its staff and clientele.

Will this be a positive or a negative for SodaStream (SODA)? It could be a positive if it inspires consumers to make premium carbonated drinks at home. The same thing happened to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR.DL). Starbucks awakened an appetite for premium java, and Green Mountain's Keurig machine took off as patrons tried to recreate the process for less at home. If folks develop a taste for carbonated versions of iced teas and gas-less energy drinks, SodaStream's going to go through a lot more of its systems and carbonators.

We'll naturally have to see how this all plays out. For now, Starbucks is testing an intriguing new product line that will give non-coffee drinkers and kids more options. It's also going upscale by sidestepping the obvious cola offerings, and that's the right approach here.

If soda is about to become the next premium beverage, Starbucks wants to make sure that it's the one making the fizzy drinks.

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