Students seeking to battle the winter cold with warm Starbucks coffee now have another reason to stop by the High Street cafe, thanks to the store’s new line of hot breakfast and lunch sandwiches.
While local shops report that the sandwiches have had a negligible impact on surrounding businesses, the breakfast additions are the latest development in a trend of chain cafes expanding their menus to include gourmet coffee and breakfast products. Starbucks began test-marketing the sandwiches early last year before deciding to launch them in shops throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts on Jan. 30. And though many of Starbucks’ innovations — its Italian phrases and CD offerings from “The Shins,” “The Decemberists” and “John Legend” — appeal to a very specific urban youth demographic, the company said the sandwiches aim to satisfy a less narrow audience.
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“At our core we are a coffee company,” Starbucks National Press Secretary Dana Ropper said in an e-mail. “Offering our customers the option of a warm breakfast sandwich, a warm pastry or lunch item is just one more way that we can satisfy our customers’ desire for a great tasting accompaniment to their cup of Starbucks coffee.”
According to Starbucks baristas at the shop located at the corner of High and Chapel streets, the cafe currently sells about 85 to 100 sandwiches a day. In preparation for the menu additions, Starbucks baristas received extensive training and held meetings to practice making the sandwiches. The shop also took on extra staff workers, Starbucks barista Chrissa Vogt said.
“The sandwiches have had positive reviews,” Vogt said. “We’ve seen the same people coming in, buying the sandwiches and telling us how much they like them.”
According to Ropper, over 90 percent of customers during a product trial in Washington, D.C., and Seattle last year felt the sandwiches were “very/somewhat appropriate” for Starbucks, with zero percent saying the sandwiches were inappropriate for the chain. In addition, 70 percent said the sandwiches enhanced the Starbucks image.
While Starbucks patrons sat among posters advertising the new breakfast items, business remained hectic across the street at the Atticus Bookstore Cafe. Since the introduction of Starbucks sandwiches, Atticus Cafe manager Caleb Fraser said, he hasn’t detected a decline in customers, although he acknowledged that the national chain has the advantage with coffee customers in the area.
“We’ve found that we’ve had a good deal of customers coming in for a loaf of bread, pastries, cookies — and some of them do have a cup of Starbucks coffee in their hands,” Fraser said. “So [Starbucks] may have them on the coffee, but we have them on the other end with pastries.”
As Starbucks has added breakfast sandwiches to compete with products sold by other national change — like the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, one Starbucks sandwich includes eggs, bacon and cheese and is priced in the range of $2 to $3 — companies like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts have added new menus items and revamped restaurants to compete with Starbucks’ “hipper” image.
Last year, Dunkin’ Donuts unveiled breakfast sandwiches such as the “Sausage Supreme Omelet Sandwich,” composed of eggs, sausage and American cheese, and the chain has selling lunch and dinner foods as well as fancy coffee drinks such as lattes and espressos for the past several years. The company has even toyed with dropping the “Donuts” from its title to communicate its broadened selection.
Additionally, Dunkin’ Donuts last year undertook a campaign to revamp its retail locations. A prototype makeover in Euclid, Ohio, features an espresso bar as well as granite-style countertops.
Last year, McDonald’s also released a line of gourmet coffees, served with insulated cups and lids similar to the Starbucks’ cup design. McDonald’s Bistro Gourmet restaurants have opened in a few locations in California and Florida, and the new restaurants boast upholstered seats, carpeting, dark wooden molding, colorful wallpaper and oil paintings.
But regardless of how long this breakfast race will last, local companies in New Haven said they plan to stick to what works.
“[Atticus] is just a more personal, simpler experience,” Fraser said. “We don’t have 1,500 different kinds of coffee and frappuccinos and lattes … and we’re not trying to get fancy and overpower [Starbucks]. We basically acknowledge the fact that they have a much stronger coffee business.”