Starbucks (Nasdaq:SBUX – News) hopes to help ease the pressure on customers’ pocketbooks with the introduction this month of Starbucks Gold. The program is the next evolution of Starbucks Card Rewards and was designed with Starbucks best customers in mind. For an annual membership of $25, Starbucks Gold customers receive a Gold Card that gives them 10 percent off most everyday purchases at participating Starbucks stores in the U.S. Since the program was introduced a week ago, sales of Starbucks Gold memberships have exceeded initial projections by 20 percent.

For customers who come in 10 times a month for a Double Tall Nonfat Latte, for example, a Starbucks Gold membership would pay for itself in fewer than 4 months.

In addition to 10 percent off most purchases, including espresso beverages, food, whole bean coffee, espresso machines, grinders, and merchandise, customers will receive special members-only offers and invitations once they register their Gold Card online. For example, this month, a select group of registered Gold Card members were invited to participate in a rare behind-the-scenes visit to the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle. In addition to joining partners (employees) at a monthly coffee roasting event, registered Gold Card members also enjoyed a personalized coffee cupping with Starbucks team of coffee blenders. Other perks that come with registration are a complimentary beverage on one’s birthday and friends and family days where members can share their discount.

Gold Card benefits at a glance:

* 10 percent off most purchases in participating U.S. company-operated stores, including espresso beverages, food, whole bean coffee, espresso machines, and merchandise. The discount cannot be applied to Starbucks cards, publications, digital downloads, membership fees, and items that are already discounted.

* A free drink when purchasing the Gold Card in-store.

* Tender neutrality. With the Starbucks Gold Card one can pay with cash, credit card, or a Starbucks Card and still receive the 10 percent discount when showing the card at the time of purchase. In addition, the card can be loaded with any amount from $5-$500.

News, Starbucks