Recipe for reinvention: Starbucks unveils innovations for better customer, barista experiences


On a recent afternoon, innovation at Starbucks looked like a Grande Mocha Frappuccino®.

It wasn’t the beverage itself that was so groundbreaking, but rather the way it was made. Typically, it takes a barista about 87 seconds and 16 steps to make the beverage. But this one took only 36 seconds and 13 steps, meaning the same, great-tasting beverage can be delivered faster to a customer while also providing a smoother experience for the barista.

The difference? A new proprietary Siren System that features a custom ice dispenser, milk-dispensing system and new, faster blenders all located within reach of a barista, reducing bending and heavy lifting. It also eliminates the need to move back and forth behind the service bar and eases congestion in a crowded, busy space.

It’s one of the tangible ways that the Starbucks Reinvention plan, unveiled this summer, is coming to life at the Tryer Center, a 20,000 square foot engineering and innovation space on the first floor of the Starbucks Support Center, the company’s Seattle headquarters.

On Tuesday, during Starbucks Investor Day, the company is unveiling advancements in a host of areas, including coffee brewing technology, beverage and food productivity and digital experiences. The point of the Reinvention plan is a better Starbucks for the future, co-created with the input of all partners (employees) to respond to the increasing demands and changing needs of customers. For example, over the past few years, the number of cold beverages ordered has surpassed the number of hot drinks year-round. And, two in three drinks ordered have requested customizations such as extra espresso shots and flavorings.

In response, partners at Tryer are working to create a store that is both less stressful for retail partners and also more effortless and digitally connected for customers.

“There’s no better way or place to support the Starbucks Reinvention plan than here,” said Janice Waszak, the Tryer Center director. “We specifically built Tryer to help us rapidly innovate on big things and quickly bring them to market. The motto here is, ‘Idea to action in 100 days, or less.’”

Two dozen Seattle-area baristas with 173 years of collective store experience work at Tryer full-time, shoulder-to-shoulder with SSC partners creating and testing solutions.

“This model of co-creation and collaboration with store partners has been going on in Tryer since we opened the doors,” Waszak said. “It’s how we do our best work.”

More efficient coffee

One key advancement is a more efficient cup of coffee. The Clover Vertica, engineered for speed, will serve a freshly ground and brewed cup of coffee on demand in under 30 seconds. Each Clover Vertica is topped by six hoppers, which offer a variety of coffees all day, including decaf. And the brewers don’t require paper filters.

Currently, every 30 minutes, Starbucks store partners have to grind coffee beans, batch it in paper filters and brew. They throw away anything that’s unsold each half hour to meet quality and freshness standards. Starbucks serves more than 15 million brewed cups of coffee every month in the United States.

“This continual cycle of grind, batch, dump, do over is only one example of the repetitive work store partners do today that can be simplified,” said Amelia Landers, vice president, Business Strategy, Partner and Customer Solutions, who started at Starbucks more than 20 years ago as a barista in college.

The Clover Vertica brewers will begin rolling out to U.S. Starbucks stores within the next year.

Another labor-intensive task, one of the most painful that baristas shared, is producing cold brew coffee; it requires about 20 hours and 20 steps. Collectively, Starbucks spends about $50 million per year on labor to brew cold brew coffee.

The new Cold Pressed Technology, developed by Starbucks research and development team at Tryer, is a patented method of extracting coffee with low-pressure immersion, without even heating water. The result? Cold brew on demand, just four steps and available in a matter of seconds.

Beverage and food productivity

“Cold beverage builds are increasingly complex and time consuming, and the surge in volume has caused bottlenecks in Starbucks stores,” said John Culver, Starbucks group president, North America and chief operating officer.

In addition to being able to cut the time it takes to make a Frappuccino beverage by almost a third, the Siren System in early tests reduced the process for making a Grande Pink Drink from 52 seconds and 11 steps to just over 24 seconds and nine steps.

The Siren System will also help with food. Most breakfast sandwiches take approximately 65 to 85 seconds to individually warm in the ovens. Starbucks will now batch cook them instead and place them in a heated rack, or warming wall, next to the drive-thru window, which will help serve customers faster. The goal is to meaningfully reduce drive-thru and customer wait times.

Digital Experiences

The Reinvention plan also includes technology to make the customer experience at Starbucks more personalized and effortless, while also freeing up baristas to focus on creating more moments of connection.

Those advancements will include dedicated mobile order-only pickup lanes; a more personalized drive-thru experience that recognizes Starbucks Rewards customers and offers recommendations based on order histories; improved timing algorithms to create more accurate wait times on mobile orders; and effortless payment options where customers won’t have to pull out their credit card or even the Starbucks app.

“We are completely changing the experience for our partners. Better beverages, delivered more quickly, less strain on our partners,” Culver said. “With partners and coffee at our core, the Reinvention plan allows us to unlock opportunity and delivery growth for the future. Abundant growth.”

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Reimagining the Third Place: How Starbucks is evolving its store experience