Helping create a lunch menu with a diversity of taste and broad appeal was the perfect challenge for Starbucks food team. Together, they created Mercato, a new selection of grab-and-go salads, hearty sandwiches and sides that launched April 11 in Chicago.
The new menu features foods that meet a variety of dietary lifestyles from high protein to vegetarian and vegan. All items are made fresh and delivered daily using high-quality, flavorful ingredients. More than 100 Starbucks stores in downtown Chicago will offer Mercato, which means “marketplace” in Italian.
“A marketplace describes variety, and we wanted to create an experience for our customers that allows them to assemble a lunch that they will really enjoy,” says Jane Hernandez, Starbucks chef. “When developing the Mercato menu, we put quality, taste and freshness at the core of recipe development, with the goal to offer satisfying meals and snacks that fit our customers’ dietary lifestyles both in wellness and convenience.”
Starbucks has grown its food business by 1.5 times since 2013 and plans to double it by the year 2021. Building upon a strong breakfast business the next opportunity for growth is lunch with more than 50 percent of Starbucks customers coming in after 11 a.m. The company first announced plans to innovate its lunch program in December 2016 at its biennial Investor Conference, and in March unveiled a preview of the menu at Starbucks Annual Meeting of Shareholders.
“We have heard from our customers that they are seeking food that meets their evolving dietary needs as well as their busy on-the-go lifestyle,” says Sara Trilling, senior vice president of Food at Starbucks. “The launch of Mercato signifies Starbucks next step in building our food business through customer-driven innovation.”
Development of the Mercato menu began last summer as the food team embarked upon market research.
“We went on food tours in restaurants and grocery stores here in Seattle and other U.S. cities, looking at what people were eating, what was on shelves and what was selling well,” says Hernandez. “We also looked at feedback from customers regarding our existing lunch menu.”
The result of the team’s research is a menu that draws inspiration from the colorful and diverse assortment of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients experienced in a marketplace. The Mercato menu addresses what Starbucks customers are looking for—fresh and vibrant grab-and-go lunch.
Once the Mercato menu was finalized, the team sought feedback internally and externally through focus groups and partners and began planning for the launch. Chicago is the first market to offer Mercato at Starbucks stores in addition to the current food portfolio and the company plans to expand the menu to other U.S. markets in the future.
“Starbucks has a 30-year history with Chicago,” says Luigi Bonini, senior vice president, Global Product Innovation, who guided Hernandez and team. “It is an influential coffee and food-inspired city with a diverse set of customers, which allows us to bring unique experiences to the city.”
The Mercato menu offers both half and full sandwiches, salads and a variety of sides such as fruit cups and yogurt parfaits, providing ways to mix and match for lunch. The menu varies by store location and includes:
Za’atar Chicken & Lemon Tahini Salad: Herbed chicken with Za’atar spice, ancient grains, chunky cucumber tzatziki, marinated carrots, chopped romaine and lemon tahini dressing.
Cauliflower Tabbouleh Salad: Chopped parsley, mint, cucumber, tomato and riced cauliflower with fresh lemon juice on arugula.
Seared Steak & Mango Salad: Seared flank steak, minted mango, pickled onion, cucumbers, carrot slaw over rice noodles, and chopped peanuts served over romaine lettuce with red curry vinaigrette.
Herbed Chicken & Fig Spread Sandwich: Herbed chicken breast with a flavorful fig spread and arugula, made complete with whole grain mustard ricotta on Ficelle bread.
Smoked Pork Cubano Sandwich: Smoked pork loin, pulled pork, swiss cheese, jalapeno whole grain dijonaise, and dill pickle on flatbread.
Crunchy Almond Butter, Strawberries & Jam Sandwich: Chunky almond butter, strawberry jam and fresh strawberry slices on Bavarian wheat bread.
The Mercato menu, along with other unsold ready-to-eat food at Starbucks stores in Chicago, will be donated nightly to the community through Starbucks FoodShare, a partnership with Feeding America that gives Starbucks surplus food to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
“This is a new day for food at Starbucks,” says Bonini. “I think we’ve created something different with an approach we’ve never taken before.”