How Those Super-Complicated Viral Starbucks Drinks Are Boosting the Company's Bottom Line

Viral 'Appuchino' drinks are a hit for Starbucks.
Viral 'Appuchino' drinks are a hit for Starbucks. / Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The days of simply ordering coffee with or without cream and/or sugar have been over for quite some time now, and Starbucks couldn’t be happier. Despite the increasing exasperation of their baristas, who are faced with fielding complicated cold beverage orders, the company recently said these ‘Appuchinos’ are helping keep them profitable.

In a July earnings call with investors, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson noted that the cold beverage category—and its endless combinations of ingredients, from honey to espresso pumps—is leading the way. “The investments we have made over the past few years innovating and expanding our coffee-forward cold beverage platform continue to boost sales and draw new customers to Starbucks,” Johnson said. “The cold category represented 74 percent of beverage sales [over the past quarter], growing 10 percentage points over the past two years.”

Johnson reiterated the point to Yahoo! Finance Live. “I tell ya—customers love them, and especially the Millennial and the Gen Z cohorts, they really enjoy those cold beverages,” he said.

“So that is really a big part of what's driving growth in terms of the platform is the fact that we have these personal, handcrafted beverages, both hot and cold, that customers love.”

The growth can be attributed in part to the pandemic, where Starbucks customers have been using the company’s app to order drinks for pick-up and opting for a virtually unlimited choice of combinations. It’s simply easier to ask the app for a complicated drink than rattle off that same order in front of a real barista. (Orders via the app grew from 18 percent in January to March of 2020 to 26 percent in the same period in 2021).

The result is a drink with an order ticket nearly the length of a CVS receipt. Some of these drink orders wind up going viral, shared either by customers or baristas who can’t believe they need to prepare a drink with 12 or more ingredients or dozens of modifications.

The orders are part entertainment—customers may be hoping to score a viral TikTok sensation with an outlandish drink—and they may even be expressing some rooted need for control in some tumultuous times. Or maybe they're just ordering a cold beverage for their pup. Either way, Starbucks benefits greatly from the free advertising. As the drinks get shared, more people are encouraged to order their own.

So while you may find the ‘Appuchino’ trend silly, take heart. It might be one reason coffee inflation won’t hit Starbucks anytime soon.

[h/t Food & Wine]