Since its inception in 1971, Starbucks has been instrumental in changing the way we consume and interact with coffee.
The coffeehouse chain, with its abundance of locations across the world, is often credited with making the morning coffee run a key part of our modern culture. The trendy, forward-thinking brand took the warm caffeinated beverage out of the beatnik cafes deemed inaccessible to those outside of the urban scene to the West Coast, where the brand proudly boasted its commitment to environmental and fair trade issues. People could feel good about purchasing a cup of coffee from a brand that started as one of the “little guys” in Seattle and achieved the American dream by growing and expanding and, eventually, becoming an instantly identifiable part of society in the 21st century.
One aspect of Starbucks’ success that many try to emulate, but few achieve, is its solid brand recognition and ability to adapt and evolve without alienating its diverse customer base. From updating its logo to introducing new products like VIA instant coffee, bottled cold Frappuccinos, and Starbucks Refreshers caffeinated fruit drinks, the brand has taken the coffee shop experience outside of its chain locations and into supermarkets and convenience stores worldwide. The company is also recognized for its series of brand refreshes represented by the evolution of its coffee packaging. Starbucks primarily sells its whole-bean coffee and grounds in a flat bottom coffee bag — as opposed to a less planet-friendly tin can or rigid plastic canister — but the packaging’s designs have undergone many changes as the company devotes itself to educating its customers and delivering the very best coffee-drinking experience possible.
Starbucks’ Creative Director of Packaging, Mike Peck, gave a keynote presentation titled, “Packaging Retail Experience,” that highlights the importance coffee bags serve in communicating a brand’s ethos to consumers. The shopping experience at a Starbucks location is vastly different from shopping in a supermarket, he says, and coffee packaging acts as the link that connects consumers from the retail aisle back to the more intimate coffee house. Coffee flavor, for example, is much more complex than its roast — at the grocery store, there generally isn’t a coffee expert or Starbucks employee onsite to help guide customers through the various flavor and roast varieties so they can determine which is right for them. Coffee bags, therefore, serve as a storytelling medium that helps people easily locate their preferred coffee style within a matter of seconds.
Coffee packaging like Starbucks is so successful because it mixes heritage with modern influence and includes storytelling elements right on the outside of the flat bottom coffee bag. The descriptive text helps to divide the various diverse coffee blends and gives people a reason to understand the differences between them. The newer Starbucks coffee bags are focused on artistry, as the packaging reflects the creativity and skill that go into blending complex coffee flavors while making it easy for people to distinguish from one particular bean from the rest. There is intentional variety in the coffee pouch designs, and Starbucks selects particular colors on each bag, which vary depending on what’s trending in the market and what customers already associate with certain flavors, blends, and roasts.
While undergoing a packaging refresh, Starbucks’ design team took a break in the middle of the packaging development process to explore different graphic and color options. Though they had a concise concept in mind, they took a step back to explore different ideas and consider what had — and hadn’t — worked in the past. Reviewing what type of flat bottom coffee bag resonated in previous years allowed the team to spot improvements so the packaging could be updated for current customers. Now, coffee packaging like Starbucks brings individual stories to life, using each bag as a unique expression of its beans’ particular heritage, roast, and flavor.
Newer Starbucks coffee pouches feature a roast spectrum (ranging from blonde, medium, and dark), story and tasting notes — containing a narrative that pinpoints specific characteristics of each blend and its origins — and brewing tips. These educational suggestions include simple, clean graphics that showcase the perfect brewing ratio for that particular coffee blend; tablespoon icons represent how many coffee grounds to include, and water droplets indicate how much H2O is needed to help consumers create the best-tasting coffee possible.
Packaging has the unique ability to not only show off your product in the very best light but also to inform customers how your product can be best utilized and enjoyed. This creates a much more positive response than simply packaging your goods in a plain bag or canister with no descriptive elements whatsoever. New coffee drinkers, as well as java aficionados, appreciate the extra time, care, and attention to detail brands like Starbucks take to highlight how their product is best prepared and enjoyed when a barista or company leader cannot be on-site to offer their expertise.
Starbucks is also noted for the continued placement of its easily identifiable logo front and center of its coffee pouches, so no matter what kind of new designs or flavor varieties are introduced to the market, it can still be easily spotted on retail shelves and distinguished from other brands. Location has been a big inspiration for the coffee company’s designs, and its team deliberately uses colors of different regions where the beans are harvested right on the outside of its bag. Since most coffee beans and grounds generally look the same, it’s crucial to use your packaging to distinguish your product from the rest and educate consumers about its unique characteristics, aroma, flavor profile, and origins.
Starbucks recently debuted a 3 Region spring blend, using seasonal packaging to introduce a new, limited-time product out to the market. These flat bottom coffee bags feature a colorful floral pattern with the distinctive green Starbucks logo front and center, as usual. The brand also used its Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle as inspiration for much of its current coffee bag designs. The copper foil in its top band references the copper used in the Roastery’s equipment, while the white shades on the bags recall the terra cotta pillars and tiles that create the structure of the building. This clever design inspiration brings supermarket shoppers out of the grocery store and into the type of environment where their beans are roasted. Coffee packaging like Starbucks works hard to give people a sense of the space where the magic happens and has the ability to transport consumers imaginations to new and exciting locations.
Starbucks’ success stems from numerous intricate strategies and tactics, but its marketing has long been a standout. Actually seeing the unique storefronts and coffee on retail shelves has been huge in exposing people to the brand and becoming a part of everyday life for so many consumers. Using packaging that is protective and locks in the freshness, flavor, aroma, and unique notes that make each coffee blend so special and distinct has helped Starbucks fans recreate the coffee shop experience right in their kitchens, building loyalty, devotion, and brand advocates who help embrace and spread the word about new products, packaging, changes, and updates that help keep the Starbucks brand fresh and exciting.