Coffee drinkers jam the counters at Starbucks waiting to jump-start their day. But more than half of customers come in after 11 a.m., many looking for something to eat. Expanding the breakfast menu has proven successful—Starbucks’ food business has grown by 50% since 2013 and it plans to double food sales to $5 billion by 2021, said CEO Kevin Johnson at a shareholders meeting last year. “[By] focusing on a specific daypart, we can create new customer occasions … and long-term drivers of growth,” he said. Next up? New lunch offerings, with a fresh-food rollout called Mercato. Launched in April, the lunch menu is in test at 100 Chicago units.
A market-fresh moniker
Mercato is Italian for “marketplace,” a concept that conveys freshness, health and variety, and feeds into the ongoing farm-to-table trend. While the menu focuses on typical fast-casual fare like salads and sandwiches, ingredients such as za’atar, burrata and red curry dig deeper into global flavors than the usual Mediterranean and Asian ingredients.
Fresh prep without a kitchen
The company partnered with a supplier in downtown Chicago that preps and packages the menu items in its commissary kitchen using recipes and techniques developed by Starbucks’ chefs, and drops them off daily to area stores. In the past, most of Starbucks’ food was prepared off-site, frozen and delivered to stores weekly. Baristas warm the Mercato sandwiches using existing equipment.
Based on “extremely encouraging customer response,” Starbucks is accelerating the rollout of the Mercato menu to Seattle over the next two quarters. It’s also experimenting with other lunch options. In June, Starbucks partnered with health-focused chain Snap Kitchen to offer its prepackaged grab-and-go food in five Houston locations. Analysts agree that a nationwide launch of Mercato would boost comps, but that Starbucks’ lack of kitchens seems to be limiting its goal of expanding lunch with one solution.