Tuesday, July 12, 2011

UPDATED: Starbucks Bistro Box: Will it sell? Will you like it? Find out!

Baristas at my local Starbucks were setting up the cold case for the new Bistro Boxes tonight. I got to kibitz and ask all sorts of questions. I wish I could have taken detailed notes – but I wasn’t expecting to try to write anything until I saw Melody’s blog post. In short - they will sell - but I'm not at all excited about Bistro Boxes.

UPDATED: Starbucks also has a fact sheet out with details on exactly what is in each Bistro box: http://news.starbucks.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=548

(Entree Size) - $6.95
- Chipotle Chicken Wraps Bistro Box
- Sesame Noodle Bistro Box
- Chicken Lettuce Wraps Bistro Box
- Salumi & Cheese Bistro Box

(Snack Size) - $4.95
- Tuna Salad Bistro Box
- Protein Bistro Box
- Chicken Hummus Bistro Box
- Cheese & Fruit Bistro Box

This is adapted from a comment I left on the StarbucksMelody.com blog. If you're interested in any aspect of Starbucks - please follow her, although you won't find the same snark you find here.

Overall, this isn't something I'm excited about - nor an item I expect to try on a daily basis. There just isn't a lot of food on the plate - especially when a burrito from Chipotle is $5.95 - and is probably three times as heavy (and filling). Honestly, I just don't think that a Bistro Box would fill up anyone but a "healthy, lean person." I think the goal is admirable - and I'm grateful to Starbucks for trying to encourage new food habits - but I'm not sure that Bistro Boxes are the way to go.

This USA Today article pretty much nails it though:
"The target: the 45% of Americans who are "wellness seekers — constantly looking for healthy options," says Annie Young-Scrivner, global chief marketing officer." http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2011-07-11-small-portions-lower-calories_n.htm
I'm also not a fan of the nutrition information - or should I say what's actually IN the things? To me at least, there's a LOT of cholesterol and sodium in the items - which makes sense considering how the food has been treated. They conveniently highlight the low-calorie options in the USA Today article.

No matter what Starbucks customers might want to believe - pastries aren't baked 'in the back" and the food it isn't "fresh" in the sense that someone cut that chicken up Tuesday morning and put it on a plate with some crackers and hummus a few hours before. Starbucks has a lengthy supply chain - and the food is just a part of that.

- If I were going to get one, I'd go for the Salami & Cheese, or else the Fruit & Cheese, which is a close duplicate of the old Fruit & Cheese plate - MINUS the cheese cubes. It also appears that the bowl of almonds and cranberries is smaller, also green apples instead of red.

- To the average person used to a meal at even a fast-food restaurant, the portions are going to be … small. Some of the bistro boxes have 4.6 ounces of food; I don’t remember which the largest is, but I think it is under 9 oz. — To put that in perspective – according to the Internet, a fully dressed Whopper is a little over 10 oz. To the health-conscious set, they’re possibly going to be considered acceptable – and we all know that is where Starbucks is going – it doesn’t have to taste good anymore (frappuccinos, pastry) – is just has to be good for us (Vivanno).

- The container of hummus with the Chicken Hummus meal is about the size that sides of salad dressing comes in. The piece of pita bread - broken in half so as to look larger - is about the size of a rice cake. I'd say that if it were a circle, it would not even be as wide as two business cards laid end to end. I'm not trying to knock this stuff - I'm just trying to put the AMOUNT of food you get into perspective so that when people pay their $5 and rip open the plastic, they're not all "Um, where's the rest of it?"

- I’m no health nut, but I’m wasn’t overwhelmed by the nutrition information. The fat was about 8-9 grams per meal. The sodium and cholesterol levels for some of the meals (again, I can’t remember as I didn’t take notes) were in the 20-30% range – and again, remember that is for less than 9 oz. of food. By comparison, a Whopper has 678 calories and 37 grams of fat. It also has 911 milligrams of sodium.

- I believe the Chipotle Chicken and Salami & Cheese are priced at $6.95; everything else is $4.95. I could be wrong though.

- I will truly regret the loss of the Chicken Pesto Pasta. I could always count on it for a quick, filling lunch.

- There are a lot of wasteful, useless lettuce leaves in the Bistro Boxes. If you're unsure of how fresh the food is - look for how limp the lettuce leaves are. Why are they there though? No one I know eats random limp lettuce.

- Baristas raved about the chocolate bar inside. Raved. It isn’t large though – maybe an inch square? And it appears to be hidden from sight if you just pick up the bistro box and look at – as if the chocolate is a surprise bonus Easter Egg once you get the meal and open it up.

- The packaging is wide and flat and does not fit into the cold case well at all. A large amount of cold-case real estate is being given up to it – at least in the short run. At the store I was at – they were being laid four across on the bottom two shelves. There’s virtually nothing left in the cold case but the drinks and a wedge of space for juice boxes and some of the cups of fruit – which are very popular at this store.

- The general consensus seems to be that certain ones (Salami, Chicken Hummus, Cheese & Fruit and one of the vegetarian items) will be very popular and the line will eventually contract to those items instead of the eight now offered.

- There was some discussion over whether the price point – $5 for the cheaper ones – would make it an attractive enough option despite the relative “lack” of food customers get. Most baristas found the old food offerings over-priced – and believed the Bistro Boxes would sell well. I personally don’t know. When you pick the Bistro Box up – it just feels “light” – and if you’re hungry, I just don’t know that you emotionally want to pay $5 for what is essentially an appetizer instead of a sandwich when you CAN SEE a sandwich the size of your fist. Then again – the Starbucks sandwiches were flat-out awful (even when I brought them home, toasted the bread, added more cheese and mayo, etc.) – and I don’t have a product research division the size Connecticut to tell me how/when to launch a product. We will see.

- The packaging they’ve chosen is … interesting – going for the simple look. I think it looks plain – and cheap. It is very likely designed to be recycled AND made of recycled materials. I just wish it didn’t look so … peasant?


  1. I had the sesame noodles bistro box & it was delicious & filled me up. I am a health conscious slim 41 year old. I look around me & notice that most Americans are not healthy & eat large portions of the wrong foods as well as are afflicted with many ailments...I wonder why, could it be the crapy diet!!!

    I love Starbucks for giving us healthy choices!!!

  2. I love both the fruit and cheese bistro box and the chicken and hummus. The combination of foods is filling and keep things from getting boring. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a healthy option.