June 27th, 2006

Getting the Kids Hooked on Starbucks

By Janet Adamy
Wall Street Journal

Coffee Chain Sticks to Pledge Not to Market to Children While Catering to Families

To help launch a line of sweet, creamy banana Frappuccinos last month, Starbucks Corp. sponsored a family-oriented community event—a free day at the Phoenix Zoo.

For adults, there were samples of espresso-infused Banana Coconut Frappuccino. But the coffee retailer also set out samples that the kids flocked to: tiny cups of Bananas & Crème Frappuccinos made with banana puree and whipped cream, no coffee.

What made the promotion surprising is that Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee retailer with more than 11,000 stores, has a longstanding policy of avoiding marketing to kids. The company says it isn’t aiming its new noncoffee Frappuccinos at children. But the promotion shows the challenge Starbucks faces in capitalizing on its growing popularity among families without breaking its pledge. As Starbucks launches more drinks that could appeal to kids, it’s also raising concerns about the nutritional value of items on its menu, as well as the high prices.

Food makers have become increasingly cautious about marketing to kids amid growing concern about childhood obesity. Kraft Foods Inc. last year started limiting its marketing to kids under 12 and in May soda companies agreed to halt sales of sugared sodas in schools. Starbucks, for its part, says it hasn’t changed its position on marketing toward youth.

The coffee chain’s written policy says its “overall marketing, advertising and event sponsorship efforts are not directed at children or youth,” although some “community activities” end up reaching kids. The company reviews marketing materials to avoid distributing ones that could be “inadvertently appealing to youth,” the policy says.

But as Starbucks expands, it is attracting new demographics, from teens who hang out after school to young mothers chilling out with their toddlers. So the chain is adding more products that appeal to them. Last month Starbucks said it had signed an exclusive deal to sell audio versions of the books “The Velveteen Rabbit” and “The Night Before Christmas” read by actress Meryl Streep. Earlier this year, Starbucks started selling DVDs of children’s music performer Laurie Berkner.

“Starbucks itself is a gathering place,” says Brad Stevens, Starbucks vice president of U.S. marketing. “You can often go in and see a whole family.”

Starbucks started selling Frappuccinos in 1995 after one of its Southern California stores whipped up the drink while experimenting with a cold coffee beverage. Since then the Frappuccino has become one of the chain’s most popular drinks and has evolved to include noncoffee varieties like Strawberries & Crème and Double Chocolate Chip. The coffee chain is now adding more noncoffee flavors. Today it plans to roll out a new line of pomegranate and tangerine juice Frappuccinos.

Plenty of adults drink Frappuccinos. But the sweetness of the drinks, and the fact that they borrow characteristics from the milkshake and 7-Eleven’s Slurpee, make them particularly appealing to children. Nutrition experts have criticized coffee chains for using sweetened coffee drinks as so-called starter beverages that get children hooked on caffeine. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food-industry watchdog, recently complained that Frappuccinos are among the most fat- and calorie-packed items on the Starbucks menu. A 16 oz. grande-size Bananas & Crème has 550 calories and 15 grams of fat. By comparison, the same size chocolate shake at McDonald’s has 580 calories and 14 grams of fat.

“A child, if it’s a snack, does not need this number of calories,” says Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pa., who is studying food-intake regulation in children.

Starbucks says that it offers lighter versions of many Frappuccinos and that the new juice line contains no fat and fewer calories than its traditional Frappuccinos. Some have caffeine because they contain tea, but they can be ordered without caffeine. The company says that for further information on caffeine, it refers customers to medical experts because that’s not Starbucks’ area of expertise.

Some parents who bring kids to Starbucks note that the drinks that appeal to young people are often the most costly—a reversal of restaurant menus where kids’ food is priced lower. However, Michelle Gass, Starbucks’ senior vice president of category management, says parents on the whole don’t seem deterred by the drink prices. The smallest size of Frappuccino sells for $3.20 to $3.70, depending on the city, and the largest sells for $4.15 to $4.90.

“It’s an expensive treat,” says Henry Kleeman, a Lake Forest, Ill., resident who recently took his 12-year-old daughter, Andrea, for a Frappuccino. Because Andrea likes hanging out at Starbucks with her friends, her grandparents gave her a Starbucks card loaded with money she can use to buy drinks. Mr. Kleeman says he isn’t concerned about the high fat and calorie content of the drinks for his daughter. “There’s a lot of things I worry about more,” he says.

The influx of young people in the stores also threatens to upset customers who rely on Starbucks for a quiet place to work, read or relax. Neighborhood Starbucks outlets attract so many middle- and high-school students that “on weekend nights it’s almost like a bar for teenagers,” says analyst Sharon Zackfia, who follows the coffee chain for investment bank and equity-research firm William Blair & Co. in Chicago.

Melissa Schwartz, a 38-year-old nursing student from Deerfield, Ill., complained to the manager of a Chicago Starbucks in March when about 40 teenagers flooded the store while she was trying to study for midterm exams. “They were over-the-top obnoxious,” says Ms. Schwartz. Some of them sat on the floor near her. “They just crawl all over you,” she says. The store manager asked the teenagers to quiet down and gave Ms. Schwartz drink coupons.

But the manager also told her there wasn’t much he could do because the kids are customers too, Ms. Schwartz recalls. Now she peeks inside the Starbucks to make sure there aren’t too many teenagers and, if there are, crosses the street to a quieter tea shop.

Some coffee chains say nutritional and other concerns shouldn’t stop them from trying to attract young customers. “Better they should get hooked on an ice-blended beverage than maybe something else,” says Michael Coles, president and chief executive of Caribou Coffee Co., a Minneapolis-based coffee chain with 410 stores. Parents have thanked him for giving their kids a place to do homework, he says.

Caribou has added a line of noncoffee ice-blended drinks called Snowdrifts in flavors like Oreo and Mint to appeal to children, Mr. Coles says. Caribou stocks about one-third of its locations with stuffed animals, trucks and other toys to attract families. “Hopefully these kids will grow up in Caribou and think of it as their place,” Mr. Coles says.


  1. Posted by Jeff on June 27th, 2006

    I do not know how to hide my disgust. Apparently what is important in education in the United States is not education but product propaganda. That is what advertising is when the choice to ignore it is removed. I can always turn change the channel but what you seem to be saying is that advertizing is obligatory. I wonder if children going to private schools are forced to accept the same primitive mindset—anything for a buck even the sacrifice of our children so that Starbucks can sell a lie about Starbucks or young teenage girls who are denied the right to abortion pills are then sold books that turn them into makeup dolls and sex toy objects to appease their boyfriend, which in turn will get them into sexual trouble but will deny them the right to do anything about it—when they were in fact brainwashed into it by teeny bopper books. Perhaps this ought to become a topic for discussion throughout the education system where teachers use this advertizing against its design. What I mean is that in English class kids could be made aware of the mass input of advertizing and at first they describe how it affects them. They are asked to write down what the advertisement says to them and what it makes them want to do. Then teachers compare this to see if there are any general trends about advertizing affects their students. (This ought to be conducted nationwide via the internet.) That is does advertizing create a set of distinct personas that kids identify with. Advertisements that can be shown to affect students so that they identify with distinct types could then be said to create a kind of behavior that may be detrimental to the kid’s development. The kid is losing himself or herself to this commercial persona. Next the kids are then asked to write about why this persona is cool or why it is in. And then teachers compare again because now they would have some insight into how these advertisements create nationwide patterns in kid’s behavior and create character types that the kids attempt to live out. Next the teacher gets the kids together and they talk about this, and why for example Starbuck’s sells what it does, and why its products are not very good for you. This could be done with cosmetics too That cosmetics can are for the most part destructive to the skin and in the long run kids will in reality be hooked on cosmetics to look good because the cosmetics will have ruined their skin. This could be the start of a challenge to these industries that are so low that they copy the junky technique of drug pushing or the cigarette companies’ model of getting kids hooked on smoking because they know if they get the kid young, he or she will be hooked for life. By doing this parents might actually get concerned that this junky mentality that is backed by the board of education is an enemy of education. Kids at school should learn to think, and act and also learn to write and read and do mathematics and so on. The point is advertisement ought not to be allowed into the school period. Crap like Coca-Cola, Soft drinks, junk food, are precisely what kids should be shown is deadly. This could also be done in the classroom. Kids get science class and class could be used to show what Coca-Cola does to the body and how it creates sicknesses, destroys the body—Similarly with junk food. Then Social Studies could be used to make kids aware of how it is that as citizens they can protest that this poison is being pushed upon them and that they “have Rights”. That the first ten rights of the constitution are as follows. Then these 10 rights could be used by students to attempt to motivate them in an exercise of promoting democracy and to influence their parents into doing something about just how disgusting it is with inadequate books, poor school equipment, bad and improper food, advertizing fraud,etc. This might accomplish a number of things in terms of showing that our system is designed to keep people down while making them brain dead. Poor food, poor education materials, product propaganda piped down our kid’s throats, and on and on. This could start a movement. Many parts of the country would refuse to give in, others would find it beneficial, others still would come right out and say they banned this crap from the start and then there would be Bush liars who would attempt to say that poor little Starbucks and poor little MacDonald’s have the right to sell their junk because their junk won the right to sell their crap at the school by “fair competition”. Kids could also be taught to look at where they live. At the environment and they could test it for bad things and good things, and the air too. You see one could literally use education and the education system to fight. This would of course require a movement among teachers and perhaps coordination with the library and the use of communication systems like computers, cameras, videos, etc. but the object would be engagement. Why not get involved kids? Well Just an idea.

Add your own Comment