On three separate occasions at different Starbucks locations in Manhattan over the past few weeks, I have been denied my beloved hot green tea.
The first two times I was told the location was out of green tea and was forced to choose a less-caffeinated flavour. On the third try this week, a Starbucks employee told me, “We’re all out of tea.”
I couldn’t believe that a chain dedicated to selling hot beverages was completely wiped out of one of its main products.
When I asked two employees behind the register what gives, I was told that Starbucks is in the process of switching brands from Tazo tea, which it purchased for $US8.1 million in 1999, to Teavana, which the company purchased for $US620 million in 2012.
“We’ve already switched over but we’re not receiving the supply to meet the demand,” one Starbucks employee told me. “That’s the problem right now.”
When I inquired about a simple cup of hot water to combat New York’s freezing temperatures, I was told that would put me back 54 cents. (I bought it. It’s cold here.)
But don’t fret, Tazo tea fans!
“Starbucks will continue to sell Tazo products in grocery stores, big-box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart, as well as natural foods market such as Whole Foods,” Starbucks spokeswoman Alisa Martinez told Reuters last month, adding that Tazo currently brings in more than $US1 billion in annual sales.
At its annual investor conference in December, Reuters notes that Starbucks said that tea as a percentage of Starbucks U.S. retail sales had grown from less than 8% in fiscal 2009 to 10% in recent quarters.
If the company wants to continue growing their tea sales, it may be helpful if they actually have tea in stock.
Last year, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz expressed high hopes for tea. He told CNBC: “We can do for tea what we’ve done for coffee,” adding that he thinks the tea market is worth $US90 billion.
After 2012’s Teavana purchase, Schultz said: “We believe the tea category is ripe for reinvention and rapid growth. The Teavana acquisition now positions us to disrupt and lead, just as we did with espresso starting three decades ago.”
Starbucks also said that acquiring Teavana will help it with its plan to expand its Tazo brand, which Schultz has said he wants to make a major force worldwide, particularly in Asia.
In 2011, Starbucks dropped the word “coffee” from its logo in order to embrace other products, such as tea.
Starbucks didn’t return our request for comment.