Industry News | February 10, 2011 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Seattle’s Best Takes to the Skies

Seattle’s Best Coffee has had a busy year. The coffee brand within the Starbucks portfolio has redesigned its logo and brand identity; rolled out a tiered system of coffee blends labeled simply Levels 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5; launched its first integrated advertising campaign, dubbed “Anywhere Great Coffee is Needed”; and signed agreements with Subway, Burger King, and AMC Theaters to distribute its coffee.

This week, the brand announced that it has partnered with another company to help deliver its coffee to—and above—the world: Delta Air Lines. Starting March 1, all domestic and international Delta and Delta Connection flights will serve Seattle’s Best coffee.

Jenny McCabe, director of communications and public relations for Seattle’s Best, says the growth of Seattle’s Best took off with the hiring of Michelle Gass as president in September 2009. Since that time, growth has been a matter of creating “broad accessibility through partnering with great brands” like Delta, McCabe says.

“We think that we can make premium coffee more accessible than ever before,” she says. “For those great brands, what they’re seeing is that customers are looking for, maybe even demanding, a better cup of coffee when they go somewhere. It can be a strategic part of their business.”

McCabe says Seattle’s Best now has 40,000 different points of distribution, up from 3,000 in 2009. The goal, she says, is to reach 100,000, though there is no time frame on reaching that goal.

The Seattle’s Best deal is a part of Delta’s $2 billion investment in passenger experience between now and 2013, McCabe says. Through an in-flight test in December, it was determined that Level 4 of Seattle’s Best’s Level System would be served onboard Delta flights.

While Seattle’s Best continues to deliver its coffee to more and more distribution points across the country, McCabe says it is not in any way encroaching on parent company Starbucks’ business. While Starbucks delivers a stronger, more characterized, beverage mostly to its retail locations, McCabe says the aim of Seattle’s Best is to deliver a simpler, yet premium, beverage where it is not yet served.

The airline industry is just one of those spaces.

“This is the white space [Gass] saw when she was setting up this strategy. Airlines haven’t gotten there, [quick serves] hadn’t gotten there, family dining hasn’t gotten there. What about the vending industry? We have ambitions for all of those things,” McCabe says. “Lots and lots of places have not yet decided that premium coffee is important to their business, and we’re out to convince them one at a time that it is.”

By Sam Oches