Starbucks fine tunes food choices

by Josh Sosland
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SEATTLE — Seeking to strike a better balance between taste and health and wellness, Starbucks Coffee Co. on June 30 announced it has "simplified many of its recipes" as part of an effort to give its food choices greater appeal.

Starbucks said its updated menu would feature "authentic, high-quality ingredients," such as whole grains, Oregon blueberries and Michigan cherries.

As competition for the specialty coffee drink market has heated up with inroads made by several competitors, notably McDonalds Corp., the need for Starbucks to bolster the quality of its food has intensified.

"Bringing the same passion Starbucks has in serving customers some of the best coffee in the world, the company went back to the kitchen and started from scratch," the company said. "Starbucks baked and tasted hundreds of recipes to make its food more as nature intended, cutting out all artificial flavors, dyes and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as artificial preservatives wherever possible."

Health and wellness as a priority was emphasized in a number of ways in the announcement. For instance, Starbucks said it was "saving" customers 7 billion calories per year, equating to nearly 5 million lbs of fat, by using 2% milk as the standard in its beverages and by setting what it calls "nutrition guardrails" for new products to be less than 500 calories. The company said artificial trans fatty acids have been removed from all foods and beverages in North America. Additionally, the food and beverage portfolio has been expanded with healthier choices, including fruit cups, yogurt parfaits, skinny lattes, Vivanno smoothies and oatmeal.

New baked foods choices include a blueberry oat bar, baked with organic blueberries; banana walnut bread, which the company said "is nearly 30% real banana"; and marshmallow dream bar, dubbed by the company a "sensible indulgence" with 210 calories.

"Many people do not realize how many hidden calories can be in the average smoothie or restaurant salad," said Katie Thomson, a senior nutritionist at Starbucks. "And no one wants to think they’re making a healthy choice just to realize they’ve accidentally consumed half their day’s calories on a smoothie. At Starbucks, our salads and smoothies were designed to deliver real nutrition and great flavors at a sensible calorie level. Our two salads are 250 and 300 calories with dressing and our new Strawberry Banana Vivanno smoothie provides 15 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and 100% of your daily vitamin C — at just 280 calories."

Starbucks is expanding its Vivanno smoothie line with a strawberry banana flavor and is introducing a Farmer’s Market salad, containing blue cheese, almonds, dried cranberries and apples on romaine lettuce with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

With a price of $14.39, shares of Starbucks trading on the Nasdaq this week were more than double the 52-week low of $7.06 per share set in November 2008. Still, the company’s shares were a fraction of the all-time high of $40.01 set in November 2006.

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