On June 4, 2013, Starbucks customers in Seattle, Spokane (Washington), and Portland (Oregon) will find that La Boulange pastries are in the stores. Today, (May 21, 2013) I had the chance to preview many of the La Boulange bakery items. The whole thing was a kick! I met up with other bloggers, Starbucks PR representatives, one person from the coffee department, and Pascal Rigo, the founder of La Boulange. And then I, and other bloggers, sat at a table at the Starbucks headquarters, and we were well fed. Meanwhile, Pascal talked about his baking history from a child in France, to his cafes in San Francisco, to the future of La Boulange as part of Starbucks, and future food items we might see at Starbucks. It was incredible. Pascal talked a lot. He radiates passion for baking. I sat adjacent to Pascal, and snapped a few pictures of him as he spoke. There is something brilliant in listening to the founder of a company talk about their own product. I've met Jimmy Rosenberg, founder of Evolution Fresh, and had the chance to talk with him, and he's the same way - passion radiates from him. That's just an aside from this article, but in meeting these individuals who create something brilliant from nothing, you see that every pore of their body radiates a love for what they do. I am sure we've all met people like that before - but I am in awe every time I see that passion.
Here's Pascal Rigo:
We paired Organic Yukon for this afternoon's food event. It turns out that Pascal enjoys Organic Yukon coffee, and that this coffee pairs nicely with many of the La Boulange food items. La Boulange is a San Francisco-based company, and so most of the testing of new food items, plus research and development, happens in San Francisco. Starbucks fully acquired ownership and acquisition of La Boulange on July 4, 2012. (The announcement to acquire the company came about one month before the finalization of the acquisition). By August 2012, Starbucks was testing La Boulange bakery items in their San Francisco stores. As I understand it, there are long-term plans to test and overhaul lunch options at Starbucks, with Pascal Rigo leading all food research and development.
Before I go any further, look at these yummy food items!
At this point, allow me talk about some of the interesting tidbits that I learned at this event:
When are some areas of the country getting La Boulange food items?
It's planned as a slow, staged roll out. La Boulange should be introduced into Los Angeles Starbucks stores this July. Chicago is scheduled to see La Boulange food items sometime this August. New York and Boston are scheduled to receive La Boulange items in September. Starbucks won't have La Boulange launched in all their United States stores until the summer of 2014. San Francisco, San Jose, and a number of Bay area locations already offer La Boulange pastries.
Are there gluten-free baked goodies coming? People often ask for that.
Pascal Rigo talked quickly, provided an enormous amount of detail, but as I understood it, four gluten-free items will be introduced into Starbucks this upcoming September (for those stores that offer La Boulange items). The four gluten-free products will be individually wrapped with some sort of small icon identifying it as a gluten-free produce. I gathered that the four items would be something like a 5-layer cookie bar, a lemon bar, an oat bar, and a new recipe marshmallow-rice square.
What heavenly fall items might be around the corner?
Pasco mentioned that as fall item, you will likely see a pumpkin cheesecake croissant, a savory pumpkin sage croissant and a caramelized apple cake (loaf?). There was also mention of blueberry/ raspberry compote donuts.
Will there be regional offerings, suited to local palates?
The plan is to offer some regional items, depending on what local growers may have available and/or depending on local preferences. I was a little unclear what will be launched where, but Pascal mentioned that the San Jose market may offer some kind of empanadas by this summer, to cater to strong local preference. I wasn't clear if all that was mentioned actually will come to Starbucks, or is just being tested, but it sounds like New York may get some kind pastrami sandwich as a lunch item. Pascal asked about would be something local to Washington that would be great to feature here, and a blogger from Foodista.com quickly mentioned our Walla Walla sweet onions. I had to agree. Put Walla Walla onions in food offerings here, and you'll have immediate fans.
What kind of food ideas area being vetted?
Pascal rattled off a series of food ideas that you may realistically see at Starbucks. Two things that struck me are the ideas of soup, and grilled cheese sandwiches. He talked about being able to offer a small size of soup in a cup, making it easy to consume as a drive-thru customer. The grilled cheese sandwich idea has been seriously worked on, with the thought of a sandwich with aged white cheddar. There could even be a small-portioned grilled cheese marketed at children. He talked about a grilled cheese sandwich in "a cute little bag."
What did you think of the foods Melody?
Oh my god. I am so excited for June 4th! I wish it would get here sooner. I loved the ham and cheese croissant. I will be having for that breakfast more often than I should. Beautiful (that is her name) of the Beautiful Existence blog was present and we talked afterwards about the tomato basil croissant, and we both loved it. She described it as upscale, amazing tiny little pizza. I also loved the lemon loaf, which is available plain, or you can buy either a vanilla or lemon cream cheese frosting with it.
As I understand it, the chocolate croissant is a best seller in many stores that have already launched La Boulange. It was definitely delicious. There is a summer seasonal croissant called the summer berry croissant, and I thought that was totally amazing.
The molten chocolate cake was a little too rich for me, but others around me seemed to love it too.
I recognize that walking into a Starbucks and see all new pastries is going to be a surprise to many, but I think customers will quickly find new favorites. The bakery goodies will be made by local bakers, and as much as possible, will involve local sourcing of ingredients. This means, for example, that the caramelized apple cake may have Washington apples in Seattle, and Minnesota apples, if you're in Minnesota.
I am sorry this is so long! Obviously, today's event was not presented in a question and answer format, but I thought it would make the information digestible to present it that way.
I know this is a big change. But the quality of the food will be much better than before. And I really do think that people will find new favorites!
Now it's your turn!