Starbucks to Debut Reusable Cups for a Buck

Discussion
Jan 03, 2013

Beginning today, Starbucks will begin selling $1 reusable plastic cups in its stores in Canada, and U.S. Consumers who purchase the tumblers will receive a 10 cent discount with every order, helping to pay for the cup in 10 uses.

Starbucks has been selling reusable cups for years and set a goal back in 2008 to serve 25 percent of all beverages in reusable cups by 2015. Since then, the company has adjusted its goal lower to five percent in 2015. In 2011, 1.9 percent of all beverages sold in Starbucks worldwide were in reusable cups.

The company is hoping the new, cheaper, reusable cups will substantially increase consumer adoption. Starbucks’ spokesperson Jim Hanna told USA Today, "It’s not a burden for people to buy two or three."

The company tested the cups in 600 stores in the Pacific Northwest and saw a 26 percent year-over-year increase in reusable cup purchases in those locations during November. The cups, manufactured in China for less than a dollar, have lines inside that denote a "grande" or "tall" drink.

Will Starbucks’ new, $1 reusable coffee cups catch on with consumers? What else can the chain do to address American’s disposable culture mentality in an effort to promote sustainability?

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28 Comments on "Starbucks to Debut Reusable Cups for a Buck"

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Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
4 years 6 months ago

This is a fantastic development. While some have noted that customers are more likely to take action to avoid a surcharge than seek a discount, this is certainly a step in the right direction. Patagonia, IKEA and others have shown that you can have a thriving business while being outspoken and proactive on environmental issues.

David Biernbaum
BrainTrust

The re-usable cups will appeal to a certain segment of the customer base, and Starbucks will benefit from good publicity, and others will soon imitate and follow. However, the overwhelming majority of consumers still prefer a nice clean paper cup that will be used once, thrown away, and not have to be brought home to go in the dishwasher (using all that extra detergent soap by the way!).

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I’m a Venti drinker so the current offering doesn’t do anything for me.

It’s a “Venti” mistake to exclude a third of your potential audience.

I’ll get back to you when they recognize my needs as a loyal customer.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Good for Starbucks! They are making a strong effort to be a greener company. The success of the program will be in the hands of consumers, who must decide if it’s too big a hassle to clean it between uses.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

Sustainability efforts are important to many shoppers today and this, no doubt, will appeal to a segment of consumers and generate positive media publicity. And the price point certainly is reasonable. At the same time, there is an effort required by the consumer to wash the cups and bring them back. Plus, one cup doesn’t fit all drinkers so that may also be a deterrent.

Tom Redd
Guest

A very small part of the Starbucks crowd will love the cups and be excited to own them. And that is all nice and helps the environment. The normal coffee drinkers will still want their coffee and to toss the cup.

I think that the grocery bag—own your own—retail action will have more impact on the use and toss culture.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
4 years 6 months ago

In the past I may have occasionally been in my cups, but today I have little interest in any repeat performance for a buck.

I suggest creative Starbucks stick with coffee innovations rather than addressing America’s disposable culture mentality, a transient thing that I doubt promotes successful sustainability.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust
Promoting these cups probably will do more for their PR than the environment. It’s unlikely that the cups will catch on in any real way. As good as the concept seems for the environment, Starbucks, and customers, in reality, it’s a burden upon customers that as members of a disposable society, they are unlikely to accept. In other words, tossing a paper cup (even into the recycling bin) is easy—cleaning a plastic cup after each use and then keeping it on your person or readily available, isn’t. People talk the talk about all the things they want to do, like eat healthy, exercise more, and help the environment, but the American culture of 2013 does not lend itself to that. If Starbucks is really environmentally focused (I don’t see it) they 1) wouldn’t offer plastic cups (recyclable or not) 2) would phase out disposable paper cups or 3) add a meaningful premium to paper cup usage. Otherwise, there’s not much of substance they can do given that more than 16 billion paper cups are tossed by Americans each year, many of which have their logo emblazoned on them. For reference, here’s some more disposable cup data from Environment Action Association:… Read more »
Debbie Hauss
BrainTrust

It’s a good idea, but for 10 cents off I don’t think they are going to reach their goal.

And it would be even better if the cups were produced in the U.S. instead of China.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The most successful reusable cup program I ever saw was Statoil’s in Norway. In fact, the vast majority of their customers utilize their refillable mug. However, there are several big differences. Their mug was far more expensive but offered free fills. Based on my math after ten refills you could drink free coffee for the remainder of the year, so I have serious questions regarding the economics of the entire program.

Okay, back to Starbucks. The success of any refillable program is dependent on several factors. Naturally price (cup and future discount), but another is the thermal effect of the cup/mug. Does it keep the coffee hot? Does it not feel overly hot in your hand? The paper cups at Starbucks are why they have to use sleeves or people want to have a double cup. The list what is needed for a successful refill program is long, but one of the issues is the most successful programs offer a place to wash the cup out. I don’t see Starbucks offering a washing station.

Bottom line: The program will have its fans but will not as constructed have a big impact on how Starbucks customer purchase their coffee.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
4 years 6 months ago

I am very disappointed that Starbucks opted to produce these reusable cups in China rather than in the US. They promote the “Create Jobs for USA” yet they opt to make their reusable mugs as well as most of their other branded items in China. Reusable cup, great idea. Made in China, terrible and will prevent me from supporting this effort.

I commend Starbucks for creating the “Create Jobs for USA” program. I only wish they would support the program with more than simple, not very useful wristbands. Why not mugs, shirts, and reusable cups? I for one would pay $2 for a reusable mug made in the USA.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

This to me is a non issue. First, I couldn’t care less about saving ten cents, just to carry a cup around the mall when I have the urge to get a Starbucks. Second, isn’t a plastic cup a huge threat to Al Gore and his environmentalist crazies? I don’t get it, but I still respect the hell out of Starbucks for providing us a premium cup of coffee, and making huge profits (I love Capitalism).

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
4 years 6 months ago

Based upon my observations, this should be a great program for Starbucks as no one I know ever seems to throw away their current cups. I find them in the cup holders in my car, on my kitchen counters, any and everywhere but the trashcan.

A reusable cup will be great, but plastic is a little iffy. Also will Starbucks sanitize these cups before refilling? How will these be handled at the drive through (swap a cup)? Oh my gosh, here comes the EPA, the Health Department, and 10,006 trial lawyers! So much for recycling.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
4 years 6 months ago

My comments have nothing to do with sustainability or whether this will “catch on” with consumers.

It does have to do with “catching,” specifically what types of germs, bacteria and other biological contaminants are the Starbucks baristas going to come into contact with? Furthermore, by default, would or could these contaminants be passed on to other customers, equipment?

I think I’ll start purchasing my coffees from McCafe!

Michael Blackburn
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

What percentage of Starbucks’ customers are regulars, meaning they typically shop the store at a specific time as part of their daily routine (on the way to work…)? It would seem this should be their target goal. If its 50%, then 50% of customers should use a reusable cup. Is it really that hard to take the cup home, wash it quick in the sink and then have it ready for the next morning?

All these naysayers are just plain and simply lazy! You are not among the “environmentalist crazies” to realize that a disposable mentality in the long run makes no economic sense.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Starbucks has been serious about this effort for some time. They already offer a 10% discount to customers who bring in their own cups. The new $1 cup is a great idea; it’ll be a permanent fixture on loyalists’ desks and will save money spent on cups, and on labor to remove trash from the store.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“Starbucks has been selling reusable cups for years and set a goal back in 2008 to serve 25 percent of all beverages in reusable cups by 2015. Since then, the company has adjusted its goal lower to five percent in 2015.”

No, then, no now.

Dan Raftery
BrainTrust

Price is not the issue. Does anyone really think Starbucks customers are price-sensitive? The issue is convenience. Who’s going to lug around an empty mug, bother to clean it and get it back into the store for more joe? The environmentally aware are making coffee themselves already. Except for maybe the few who are currently using the Starbucks refillables. Then there’s the made in China part. A bit counter to their recent support of made in USA.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
4 years 6 months ago

Not to sound too cynical, but my sense is that this will be about as effective as the fabric bags sold by the food stores. While noble in intent, it’s very difficult for people to add more complexity (regardless how insignificant) to their lives.

Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

The last thing I want to do when hitting a Starbucks is to leave with an empty cup that I then have to carry around. I’d no doubt wipe it out with a napkin before leaving, creating a tad more waste, but I don’t want it dripping on my shirt. Am I a lazy, spoiled American? Well, maybe, but this is reality for many people and the key reason that “convenience” foods sell so well.

Even if I did use the cups, would it stay in my cup holder in the car without being washed at home before I go to a Starbucks again? Probably. Will I take it into the Starbucks bathroom and wash it out first before having it refilled? Probably…not. Having the cups made in China is death, especially coming from Starbucks and its USA jobs advocacy. This will turn a lot more people off than having the cups be $2 but made in USA. Nice idea, but I don’t see this ever gaining any real traction.

Thomas Muscarello
Guest
Thomas Muscarello
4 years 6 months ago

I don’t know about others. Starbucks knows more than I about their customers…but here is why this is a non-starter for me:
1) More Plastic?
2) Made in China?
3) No Venti – No Way.
4) I roam around all day. I will not carry around a wet, dirty cup. Or a clean dry cup. If it doesn’t fit flat in a pocket it is trashcan bound.
5) News media are always getting things wrong, but I just heard a radio news report about this very subject, stating that Starbucks would wash these cups prior to filling. Really? Now my wait online will increase. It probably takes longer to clean it than to fill it.

Ineffective for me (or curmudgeons like me). Probably meh, in general.

Tom Cook
Guest
Tom Cook
4 years 6 months ago
The disposable mentality persists because, for the individual, as a rational, self-interested actor, it’s cheaper in terms of time, money and effort to toss rather than re-use. In general, possibly ending subsidies to entities that produce disposable merchandise might make re-usable merchandise more attractive, due to the resulting cost increase of disposables. Or, we could take the easy route and ban disposable coffee cups. That should solve the problem quickly and efficiently. Point being, the whole disposable culture “problem,” if it even is such, is too complex to be solved by trying to shame people or bully people into becoming re-users. It’s an economics problem, and needs to be addressed by getting at its economic roots. Incidentally, I own like 8 travel mugs already, of varying shapes and sizes, and most coffee places I’ve been to ALREADY offer a 10c discount if you bring your own (specific example: Tim Horton’s). Assuming I buy 1 XL coffee a every morning on the 250 days a year I work, at 2$ a pop in a disposable cup, bringing my own saves me 25$ a year. Now, assuming I spend 10 seconds washing my cup out after work every day, that’s 2500 seconds,… Read more »
Mark Burr
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

As a regular Starbucks customer, or and a few other local coffee shops, I just don’t want one! I don’t want to carry it, I don’t want to dump it out. I don’t want to wash it. I don’t want to store it.

Charge me a dime.

What I want is a great cup of coffee that is fresh and served timely. I pay that premium for it.

If they really want to save money and reduce waste they could quit giving me a paper receipt in the drive thru and they could cut down the waste of the sticker on the cup displaying the order.

The other thing they could do is eliminate the waste of the grease markers they need to write my name and “Come together” on my cup.

It is not anything the sways me one way or the other. I already have a dozen or so reusable mugs in the basement. I don’t need another.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
4 years 6 months ago

Cheap, cheap, cheap. Save 10 cents on a $5 coffee? No incentive there. I also agree with the others about the fact they are using cups manufactured in China. Come on Starbucks! How about a less greedy formula? How about buying a US-made Starbucks cup for the cost of the coffee plus $1? Then use it as you would a loyalty program and give 10-15% off to anyone refilling it, not 10 cents.

Starbucks needs a better incentive to give the customer to clean the cup and bring it back in each time.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
4 years 6 months ago

Like most “new” things offered by merchants, the new Starbucks reusable coffee cup will be embraced by some customers and ignored by many others. It’s not going to have significant impact in terms of promoting sustainability, but it certainly won’t hurt. Likewise it probably won’t have a significant business impact but given the size and scale of Starbucks, it also isn’t going to hurt performance.

It’s beyond ironic that the cups are made in China given all of Howard Schultz’s US entrepreneurial bravado and Starbucks PR around “rising above” partisan differences for the good of the US.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

The gas spent sitting in the drive-through line at Starbucks costs more than the dime they’re trying to save me. 10 cents isn’t enough to incent anyone to do anything.

Chandan Agarwala
Guest
Chandan Agarwala
4 years 6 months ago

The reusable cups can be sold as owner’s pride, for being associated with Starbucks. Much like the limited edition gift coupon issues last month. It is unlikely that the psychographics of Starbucks users will be aligned to saving 10 cents in a coffee cup. The cups can be advertised as being part of sustenance drive, and owners’ can be represented to be conscious of environment, too.

Overall, Starbucks should aim to leverage the cups for improving brand, and user pride.

Jim Nowakowski
Guest
Jim Nowakowski
4 years 6 months ago

Actually, this is an argument for plastic people. Plastic will beat paper every time in this case! And in this case, plastic is THE preferred recycling material! Go Starbucks.

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