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Starbucks: How Are New Breakfast Items Faring With Customers?


The latest entries in the breakfast wars are getting a lukewarm reception, and one displaced sandwich is desperately missed.

Like the discriminating readers of a certain gentleman's magazine who buy their favorite title for the articles, people who visit Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) do so for the coffee. And if while perusing the menu board they happen to spot something else that looks enticing, well, then that's just gravy.

Admittedly, the Playboy/Starbucks analogy isn't altogether fair considering only the rare customer could accuse Starbucks food of being tempting, let alone a guilty pleasure. It's just there. You're already at the register with your wallet out, so why not? It beats making another stop. Besides you do have to eat something.

But Starbucks came to the recent realization that having just "something" behind the display case wasn't good enough. Aside from market leader McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) -- which claims 31% of all fast-casual breakfast sales -- other industry competitors are starting to up their own antimeridian game: Yum Brands' (NYSE:YUM) Taco Bell is launching the Waffle Taco and AM Crunchwrap, and Burger King Worldwide (NYSE:BKW) has morning menu improvements in the works.

Hence, Starbucks' $100 million buyout of San Francisco's La Boulange in June 2012 along with the respected bakery and cafe's artisanal revamp of the Starbucks breakfast line. First to get the makeover were the pastries, released last September.

The old "[s]awdust-like scones and limp banana bread," according to New Jersey restaurant reviewer Elisa Ung, have given way to items like the squash croissant, "a buttery fall treat sprinkled with pumpkin seeds" and a chocolate-chip cookie, "topped with wide chunks of chocolate [emerging from the warming oven] all gooey and homey."

While Ung did take issue with the blueberry-yogurt muffin that tasted like a re-rendering of the old one as well as the reduced-fat pumpkin cream cheese loaf cake that she likened to "eating a warm cheesecake," overall she was impressed -- especially for mass-produced fast food.

This week, another round of spruced-up savories arrived in select Starbucks stores. Are they simply warmed -- or rather, nuked-over -- versions of the old breakfast sandwiches?

No, says Allie Merriam from Popsugar Food. Of the three brand-new products -- a slow-roasted ham, swiss, and fried egg on a croissant; a "comforting" egg and cheddar cheese on multigrain toast; and a vegetable, fried egg, and fontiago cheese on a multigrain ciabatta bun -- the last gets her vote. Stacked with spinach, sundried tomatoes, and caramelized onions, the veggie-heavy sandwich "had a rich flavor balanced nicely by the crunch of the bread."

The "old favorite," Merriam says of the reduced-fat turkey bacon and egg white sandwich, got a tasty update with an organic wheat English muffin while managing to drop more than half its calories -- the count went from 490 to a far more sensible 230.

Fast-food blog Brand Eating agrees the new turkey bacon sandwich is an improvement over its regrettable previous incarnation. But the reviewer wasn't necessarily sold on Starbucks' ham and swiss croissant, calling it a "mixed bag that didn't quite merit the premium price tag" ($4.45). While the sandwich racked up points for nicely melted, gooey cheese and a "moist, rich, and super buttery" croissant "with a wonderfully crispy toasted crust," the flavorless ham, reheated egg patty, and gratuitous sodium count (830mg) negated the gains.

"We got a chance to try the new sandwiches," says Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Web property Delish, "and we were pretty impressed given that they are pre-made and heated to order." The standouts were the vegetable and fontiago and the reduced-fat turkey bacon, "which surprisingly didn't taste too much like the 'healthy' option."

JD Rinne at Self magazine was the first reviewer we found to invoke the "L" word about the expanded menu, although a lot of the love seems directed at its compliance with Self's grab-n-go breakfast diet program. The nearly 500-calorie ham and cheese is "a bit of a splurge" for Rinne but she applauds the protein-packed, reduced-fat turkey bacon for keeping her fuller, longer and offers up the egg and cheddar or the vegetable and fontiago as "great veggie options for those #MeatlessMondays."

Of course, there are winners and there are losers in this fickle and unfair world of breakfast sandwiches. Sometimes old sandwiches need to be let go in order to make room for new sandwiches. Sadly, Starbucks' standby veggie and Monterey Jack artisan was one of these casualties. And not everyone has taken the cut in stride.

The veggie artisan faithful have something to say about the menu change, and they've taken the form of, naturally, a Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) campaign. If you, too, have had your breakfast roll unceremoniously taken away, rest assured, Hey Starbucks, bring back the Veggie Breakfast Sandwich is fighting the good sandwich fight.
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