Does Whole Foods run any risk at all of testing a bar concept at its stores? ~ Brand Mix

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Does Whole Foods run any risk at all of testing a bar concept at its stores?

Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid
Short answer: No. USA Today reported earlier this week that Whole Foods is opening bars that will serve craft beer and local wine at its stores in a test before a wider roll-out. 

It seems to me like a perfect fit and something that will only help to build up the ambience of the store and its reputation as a friendly place to shop and a good place to buy wine and beer. In fact, I think there's still some way to go along this path. Last year, I visited the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid and there you have a place that's selling and serving a whole variety of food and beverages to the point where it's difficult to even classify what kind of place it even is.

Not to say that this new concept might not run into some localized difficulties. It appears, for example, that there could be challenges with local liquor laws in some locations. Maybe it won't work in Utah? But, longer answer, no real issues and, in fact, a plus for the brand.

In contrast, I do see some risk for Starbucks which is also testing serving wine and beer in some of its Seattle locations. Perhaps this is just lack of imagination on my part but I think that this is a much higher level of difficulty and that the Starbuck's experience would be significantly changed, and not for the better, by adding alcohol to the menu.



Elizabeth said...

Whole Foods’ selling craft beer and wine is consistent with their brand image and customer base, so this will be a success – and not confusing.

I agree with you on the uncertainty of Starbucks’s strategy. In reading the linked USA Today article, the author points out that Starbucks has intentionally and diligently developed a consistent footprint: they effectively are the McDonalds of coffee. You know exactly what to expect when you go into a Starbucks, which has been its hallmark. Starbucks attracts a certain customer. Independent coffee shops – which have been offering wine for years – attract a different customer.

Yesterday, three of us stood outside the very Starbucks restaurant referenced in the article, debating over whether to go in for coffee and tea, simply because it was Starbucks. Some people just don’t do Starbucks, and Starbucks can be proud its strong and consistent identity. It’s never been the cool place, and it doesn’t need to be, with its enormous market share. Per the article, Starbucks claims it wants to keep its existing customers in its stores for additional hours, and makes no claims of attempting to attract different customers. I hope their projections work out. It feels confusing to me.

As a shareholder, I hate to see the company lose its footing again. This is an expensive gamble, but not so calculated as the aggressive international expansion two decades ago.

Martin Bishop said...


Thanks for your comment. It was interesting to hear Howard Schultz on NPR the other day talk about removing the breakfast sandwiches until they could eliminate their aroma which was overpowering the coffee aroma. Beer and wine will undoubtedly have a stronger aroma effect.

That said, I can understand the rationale and I don't think there's any harm in testing the concept out.

Steve said...

As long as they sell craft beer and wine, they should be in safe territory. But selling average "bowling alley" beer will not be good for their brand.

I agree that Starbucks will have a harder time keeping this on-point for their brand. Unless, of course, they focus on shots of various liquors in thier coffee. That might just work.

denise lee yohn said...

i totally agree, martin! -- whole foods is about food porn and a bar only adds to that; starbucks is about the coffee experience, a bar detracts from it. -- denise lee yohn

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