Published on March 8, 2023, at 4:20 p.m.
by Alaina McDuffie.
Starbucks has been known to tinker with its menu, but its newest experimental coffee line is leaving many coffee fans scratching their heads.
The February 2023 product launch, which was inspired by Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz’s most recent trip to Italy, includes five beverages, three of which are Oleato Caffè Latte, Oleato Iced Shaken Espresso and Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew. Currently, Oleato is only available in Italy, but the company plans on expanding the launch to new locations worldwide. Southern California will be the first United States market to try the drink line.
Although relatively novel in concept, most fans appear to be underwhelmed — and borderline annoyed — with the Oleato debut. Many have taken to social media to express their reservations, citing that Starbucks could have improved other aspects of its business before premiering a new line of products.
One Instagram user vented, “We asked for more sugar-free syrups/flavors and you give us … olive oil. No one wanted this.” Another wrote, “Can we get better cup designs before we experiment with coffee???”
The announcement about Oleato also came after Starbucks’ decision earlier this year to revamp its rewards program, further explaining why consumers may be unhappy with the coffeehouse. Now, Starbucks customers will have to earn more points in order to redeem free products and merchandise. This change results in consumers paying more over time for every visit to the coffee franchise. These decisions, on top of Oleato, compound in a way that makes fans feel like Starbucks’ upper management is glazing over their complaints.
Meanwhile, Starbucks’ social media managers are doing their best to encourage fans to give Oleato a trial run, claiming that “tasting is believing.” In describing the new coffees, Starbucks claims that they taste “velvety smooth” and “deliciously lush.”
The Oleato rollout demonstrates the importance of public relations within corporate climates. It is imperative for PR teams at large companies like Starbucks to encourage the company to not only listen to its publics’ constructive criticism but also implement necessary changes that acknowledge them. Additionally, it is the role of public relations practitioners to ensure that a company makes decisions and communicates in a way that aligns with its brand image.
Overall, I would argue that the creation of Oleato goes against Starbucks’ typically strong branding. Starbucks’ PR team needs to ensure that the company is staying true to its Seattle coffeehouse roots, not pandering to fit its false idea of the “Italian coffee scene.”