Starbucks Readies its Version of the 'Big Gulp': The Trenta


On May 3, Starbucks (SBUX) lovers around the nation can all raise a glass (ok, a  cup) -- a massive 31-ounce cup -- to toast the company’s new mega-sized drink, the “Trenta.”

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The Trenta, which means “30” in Italian, weighs in at one ounce less than fast-food chain McDonald’s 32-ounce iced “McCafes” and sweet teas, and will cost 50 cents more than Starbucks’ current largest drink, the 24-ounce Venti. (Alas, Mocha Frappuchino addicts may need to quell their celebration for now -- the Trenta will only be available for iced coffee, iced tea and lemonade beverages.)

The new size is likely to be a success, according to Susan Fisher, a nutrition professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, who said that many consumers will try it just because they’re fascinated by something new.  

“The consumer is easily entertained,” Fisher said. “Changing anything will bring customers through the door, and there will be a certain number of people who buy it just to see what it’s like and then throw half of it away,” Fisher said.

Customers who need their coffee on-the-go will likely be the biggest supporters of the Trenta, Fisher said, if the drive-thru success of McDonald’s McCafe is any indication. As long as the new Trenta fits in a car cupholder, she said, Starbucks with drive-thru windows are likely to see the biggest interest in the new size.

But the idea of a giant drink being purchased from the side of a building is anathema to the founding principles of the “Starbucks experience,” according to Richard Laermer, author of "2011: Trendspotting For The Next Decade"

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“Starbucks is about to lose a lot of customers who will start to see the whole Trenta business as making them seem like a 7-11,” Laermer said. “And that cheapens the experience.”

Starbucks has been successful because it set itself apart from convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, Laermer said, “Yet each month it seems they are crowding the shops with more junk and loud music. Even consumers who normally don't pay attention to details like this are starting to feel cheated.”

Even if those who love the idea of the traditional coffee house don’t like the idea of a bigger size, it’s certainly generating a lot of interest, according to Yahoo! Searches on Yahoo! (YHOO) for “Starbucks Trenta size” were up 975% on Monday, the day Starbucks announced the new size, while searches for “Starbucks Trenta locations” were up by 75%, an indication that people were checking to see if the Trenta was available near them, according to Yahoo! spokesperson Carolyn Clark.

So far, the Trenta has already launched in 14 states, including Texas, Virginia, Georgia, and California, after debuting in those states last summer as part of a pilot-test program. A Starbucks company spokesperson told FOX Business that the Trenta is being offered in response to positive feedback from the test-run, and customers’ requests for larger iced teas and iced coffees.

The health-conscious need not worry, according to the Starbucks spokesperson, who said that unsweetened Trenta beverages will have fewer than 90 calories, and Trenta-sized sweetened iced coffee or tea will have fewer than 230 calories. But consumers who worry about their health are likely not the demographic Starbucks is going for, according to David Urban, executive associate dean and professor of marketing at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business.

“There is a segment of consumers for whom a 'Venti' drink at Starbucks just isn't enough, just as there is a segment for whom a 'Big Gulp' at 7-Eleven isn't enough. Hence, the 'Super Big Gulp.' So the company is covering an additional user segment,” Urban said.

“Even with all of the consciousness about calories, many American consumers still look at quantity for the money as a big purchase driver, and they see the bigger drinks as a better value than smaller ones,” said Urban. “What was once a medium drink in many chains is now a small drink, what was a large drink is now a medium drink, and so on.”

Purchase reinforcement and promotion are also part of Starbucks’ strategy with the Trenta, according to Urban, who said that the longer a drink takes to consume, the more time the brand name and the company logo have to penetrate the consumers’ consciousness.

Starbucks may also be banking on the fact that consumers’ eyes are often bigger than their bellies, according to Fisher, who said that coffee drinkers may purchase the Trenta with the idea that they will save money by not having to purchase a second drink later in the day -- but the coffee company will likely have the last laugh.

“Of course, what Starbucks knows is that you probably weren’t going to come back and buy that second drink anyway,” Fisher said.

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