Starbucks received a mixed result from the National Advertising Division recently. The self-regulatory body found support for the claim that “your favorite Starbucks beverages come together at the touch of the button” with the Verismo single-serve coffee system.
However, other claims comparing the system to “coffeehouse quality lattes” or “lattes…made to café standard” should be discontinued, the NAD recommended.
Kraft Foods, Inc., the maker of a competitive single serving home coffee system, argued that Starbucks’ advertising misled consumers to believe that the Verismo machine can produce lattes and other drinks that taste the same as those sold in Starbucks stores. It also maintained that the advertising deceived consumers about the content of the pods used to make drinks, which contained powdered milk, not liquid milk as used by baristas.
Starbucks disagreed. In support of its claims, it argued that the Verismo drinks met the company’s quality standards and taste profile, not that the drinks are identical. To bolster its position, the coffee chain pointed to the results of a two-week in-home consumer trial of the Verismo machine with consumers and the testing by “sensory experts” who evaluated lattes based on color, aroma, coffee flavor, milk flavor, texture, and tasting notes.
The NAD said that it was not troubled by claims such as “Your favorite Starbucks beverages. All at home. All from one machine,” which it deemed to be a characterization of what the Verismo machine offers consumers.
However, the NAD found that “coffeehouse quality lattes” and “made to café standard” resulted in a different takeaway for consumers, “that the lattes made at home using the Verismo machine are of the same quality as those served in the coffeehouse.”
“While comparisons of ‘quality’ may, in certain contexts be vague and nonspecific and therefore, constitute puffery, here the claim of ‘perfectly crafted Starbucks coffeehouse quality lattes’ is juxtaposed with references to specific product attributes (‘lattes are made to café standard with natural 2% milk’). Accordingly, NAD determined that the advertisement could reasonably be understood to mean that Verismo lattes are comparable to coffeehouse lattes in attributes or qualities that are material to consumers.”
Although the Starbucks ads did not expressly promise that Verismo provides “everything” offered in the store, “the message communicated by ‘perfectly crafted Starbucks coffeehouse quality lattes’ is very similar and suggests a specific comparison in quality between the lattes made with Verismo and those sold in cafes,” the NAD concluded, recommending that the claim be modified or discontinued.
The product testing offered by Starbucks failed to substantiate its “no material difference” claims, the self-regulatory body added. The home study was not sufficient because the test itself was not designed to support the message that the NAD found was reasonably communicated. And while the sensory experts were highly trained and experienced, the NAD distinguished “between a claim that the beverage product meets Starbucks’ standard for quality and taste profile and a claim that the products are the same or that consumers will discern no material difference between beverages made with the Verismo system and those made in the coffeehouse.”
In dismissing Kraft’s claims concerning powdered milk (that Verismo lattes were made “with rich espresso, high-quality Arabica coffee and the creamy foam of pure 2% milk”), the NAD concluded that the claim was truthful and adequately supported. “Although NAD appreciates that the use of milk pods with powdered milk represents a relevant distinction between Verismo lattes and those served in cafes, it does not follow that the advertisements imply that the milk in the milk pods is liquid milk.”
To read the NAD’s press release about the decision, click here.
Why it matters: Perhaps the NAD’s decision will result in a truce in what the self-regulatory body noted was a growing and aggressive market of single-serve beverage systems. Starbucks brought its own challenge to Kraft’s ads for the Gevalia Kaffe line earlier this year. In that case, the NAD recommended that Kraft discontinue claims that the Kaffe lines of single-serve coffees taste similar to those sold by Starbucks (like “NEW! If you like Starbucks Breakfast Blend try this!”), which the decision found to be an unsupported message of taste similarity.