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Can Starbucks Compete with Third Wave Roasters on the Delivery Front?

Starbucks launches a new subscription delivery service today.

Courtesy of Starbucks

Starbucks is jumping aboard the online coffee subscription delivery train. According to a company representative who spoke exclusively to Eater, the coffee behemoth will offer a coffee bean delivery service called Starbucks Reserve Roastery Subscriptions. It launches today and will cost customers a monthly fee of $24.

This is only Starbucks' latest move to compete with America's exciting third-wave coffee sector, which features fast-growing companies like Chicago-based Intelligentsia and Portland's Stumptown. As Fast Company reported late last year, "[a]fter Starbucks's 20-year reign as coffee's dominant force, this once fringe group is launching a culinary, cultural, and financial battle to get a piece of the $30 billion U.S. coffee market." It's no secret that third-wave coffee shops are, en masse, succeeding in siphoning off a chunk of Starbucks' share.

In 2008, with company stock at a low point, Starbucks purchased the Clover brewing system and launched a new set of initiatives in the hopes of both "connecting customers to the early days of Starbucks" and "[reaffirming] Starbucks leadership position in sustainable sourcing and climate preservation."

Since then, the company has embarked upon a two-pronged marketing scheme: Without alienating its pinterest-loving fan base — who gobble up holiday drinks and largely keep the company in the black — Starbucks has launched a premium line of single-origin coffees along with a completely new set of stores and roasting facilities.

The first Starbucks Roastery opened in Seattle late last year, but others are planned for Asia. Starbucks' new Roastery concept services its Reserve Bars (as well as its new subscription service). The Reserve Bars are clearly designed to look and feel like higher end coffee shops, what with their reclaimed wood finishes and sleek countertops. Multiple brewing methods at each of the new shops — including trendy Chemex and pour over brewing in addition to Starbucks' aforementioned Clover system — mimic offerings at third-wave coffee shops across the country.

Starbucks appears to be drawing much of its inspiration from well-funded cult roaster Blue Bottle Coffee. The Oakland, Calif.-based company is known for brewing each cup separately in-store and also uses Chemex and pour over methods. Plus, the company launched an online subscription delivery service called Blue Bottle at Home last September. Unlike Starbucks, Blue Bottle's subscription service offers customers the choice between delivery every week, every two weeks, every three weeks, or once a month, as well as what type of coffee they would like.

UPDATE, 2/15; 2:43 p.m. EST: An earlier version of this article wrote that Starbucks planned to open a Roastery in Europe. That was incorrect and has been omitted.

Khushbu Shah contributed reporting.

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