Restaurants

Starbucks launches holiday cold brew drink as the iced beverage's popularity soars

Key Points
  • Starbucks will launch the Irish Cream Cold Brew on Friday.
  • The popularity of cold brew has soared in recent years.
  • Nearly a third of cold brew drinkers buy the beverage during lunchtime, according to Technomic.
Starbucks Irish Cream Cold Brew holiday drink.
Source: Starbucks

Starbucks is launching its latest holiday drink on Tuesday: the Irish Cream Cold Brew.

The cold brew, mixed with Irish cream syrup, comes topped with vanilla sweet cream cold foam and cocoa powder.

Two years ago, Starbucks' midseason addition to its holiday lineup was the Christmas Tree Frappuccino. But since then the coffee chain has turned its focus from the heavy blended drink to lighter iced drinks that entice customers to return to cafes.

Despite dropping temperatures, cold beverages continue to be popular with Starbucks' customers. They make up more than half of Starbucks' U.S. sales. The company has rolled out Nitro cold brew to all of its U.S. locations and introduced new flavors of popular iced drinks such as Refreshers.

But Starbucks is also betting on flavored cold brew as the caffeinated beverage gains steam with coffee drinkers.

In August, the coffee chain introduced the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, its first new pumpkin coffee drink since the introduction of the pumpkin spiced latte in 2003. The popularity of its cold drinks, including the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, added 5 percentage points to the 6% jump in U.S. same-store sales it logged during the fourth quarter.

Last year, it added the Cold Foam Cascara Cold Brew and the Salted Cream Cold Brew. It also debuted a colorful take in Asia with the Butterfly Pea Lemonade Cold Brew.

Starbucks first introduced a cold brew holiday drink, the Spiced Sweet Cream Cold Brew, in 2016.

Compared with traditionally brewed coffee, cold brew usually has a less acidic taste and typically contains more caffeine than iced coffee. For example, Starbucks' cold brew has 40 milligrams more caffeine than its iced coffee.

Cold brew now appears on 7.3% of U.S. menus, up 356% over the last four years, according to Datassential. Customers spent $1.7 trillion on cold brew last year, according to Technomic.

Dunkin', Panera Bread and Dine Brands' IHOP are among the national chains that have also jumped on the trend. Dunkin' has even offered its own Irish Creme cold brew in the past, timed for St. Patrick's Day.

Nearly a third of cold brew drinkers buy the beverage during lunchtime, according to Technomic. For coffee shops, that's good news. Sales slow down after the busy morning hours, and luring customers back without relying on too many discounts can be difficult. Cold brew is also usually pricier than the average iced coffee.

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