Starbucks Has a New Plan to Rule the Lunch Crowd

Starbucks

In a letter sent to Starbucks employees Monday and confirmed by Bloomberg, chief executive officer Kevin Johnson introduced the brand’s latest foray into the food space, along with an optimistic take on a segment that has traditionally tripped up the java giant.

Starbucks is currently selling meals from Snap Kitchen at five cafes in Houston. Johnson said in the letter that the initiative was “off to an amazing start in Houston and will soon expand.”

Snap Kitchen is a Texas-based startup headed up by former Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchoff. The 7-year-old company, which has 53 locations, spotlights healthy ingredients in grab-and-go format.

Food sales account for around 20 percent of U.S. sales at Starbucks. In late 2016, Johnson said the company was targeting 25 percent of sales, mostly driven by the lunch crowd. Starbucks has grown its food business by 1.5 times since 2013 and plans to double it by 2021, it said.

Starbucks rolled out its Mercato lunch program in April in around 100 downtown Chicago locations to “record sales,” according to Johnson’s letter.

“We have heard from our customers that they are seeking food that meets their evolving dietary needs as well as their busy on-the-go lifestyle,” said Sara Trilling, senior vice president of Food at Starbucks, in a release at the time. “The launch of Mercato signifies Starbucks next step in building our food business through customer-driven innovation.”

The Mercato menu offers both half and full sandwiches, salads, and a variety of sides such as fruit cups and yogurt parfaits. Some items include: Seared Steak & Mango Salad, Cauliflower Tabbouleh Salad, Za’atar Chicken & Lemon Tahini Salad, and the Smoked Pork Cubano Sandwich, among others. Starbucks has also unveiled higher-end menu items, including gluten-free breakfast sandwiches. The item was part of its spring menu release, which also featured Starbucks Organic Avocado Spread and Lemon Chiffon Yogurt. The Sous Vide Egg Bites, which debuted January 10, were two years in the making.