Aside from one stunning location in the Netherlands, Starbucks stores have never baked their own pastries. So the result is that, in a moment of a missed breakfast or lunch, many of us inevitably reach for one of the coffeemaker’s tongue-desiccating scones, gut-bombing ourselves with near lethal amounts of saturated fats without any real pleasure to show for it. (Because, let’s face it, even a great scone is pretty lousy. Don’t hate me, Brits.)
In turn, Starbucks spent $100 million last June to acquire La Boulange, a respected San Francisco bakery. And since, Starbucks has been working on a plan to not just scale La Boulange’s process to work inside every one of their coffeeshops, but to actually reheat delectable croissants to order so that, within three minutes, every customer can have a fresh, flaky baked pillow pulled right out of the oven.
Smithsonian ran a fantastic story deconstructing how Starbucks is scaling the process, and they even taste-tested the new croissants versus La Boulange’s classic croissants (the verdict was that they’re pretty darn good—and eating warm pastry is so satisfying that La Boulange will retrofit their own stores to make that possible). But I was particularly taken by one of Starbucks’s chief concerns of this pastry roll out, namely, that it would change what their coffee shops smell like. From Smithsonian:
It seems too much, too soon, particularly because the soups and piadinas will be served warm, and threaten to waft the same kind of distracting food odors that led [CEO Howard Schultz] to say he would abolish breakfast sandwiches when he took back the reins of Starbucks in 2008, after a seven-year hiatus. (Those smells still waft in many stores; before he bought La Boulange, Schultz’s main achievement toward his promise to improve Starbucks food was to remove flavorings and artificial ingredients. The pastries remained awful.) In his office, Schultz makes clear to me that he intends that Starbucks never be confused for a restaurant.
It is true that, when you walk into any Starbucks, you’re struck with the smell of coffee. And changing that is a classic challenge and concern of experience design—the overall effect a Starbucks has on their customers. Because while you can say what you will about their coffee, the average Starbucks store is a carefully considered experience that’s constantly being honed to shifting trends and sensibilities. To walk into a Starbucks and smell butter and browned wheat, rather than the promise of a quick caffeine fix, could fundamentally change how it feels to be in a Starbucks, which in turn could shift why, when, or how long you visit the store.
And even worse still, that new buttery smell might subconsciously remind us that our favorite Frappuccino is actually making us fat.