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MSNBC reports that Starbucks, which has long refused to market its products to children because of nutritional concerns about young people drink caffeinated and sweet beverages, is considering a change of stance in this area.

The reason is simple. People under age 18 are a significant portion of the company’s customer base, as anyone who has found the chain’s chairs filled with chatty teens can attest. In addition, many moms use Starbucks as a “third place” where they can chat with friends, and they often bring their children with them, creating an apparent need for more kid-friendly products.

“Starbucks spokesman Brandon Borrman said there are still no plans to market specifically to children, and grown-ups need not worry that the Cartoon Network will be playing on the flat-panel screen of their neighborhood Starbucks anytime soon,” MSNBC writes. “But Borrman said Seattle-based Starbucks is considering whether to add new drinks or drink sizes that better meet the needs of kids or teens.

“Right now, it only lists limited kids’ items, such as milk and hot chocolate, in a smaller size, while teenagers have the choice of adult-sized, and often heavily caffeinated, beverages.”

Borrman tells MSNBC, “We need to be realistic about who comes into our stores, so if we have children who are coming into our stores that are on their own, we want to make sure that we have products that are appropriate to that age group. Do we have an alternative to a venti-size caffeinated beverage that would be more appropriate?”

No timetable has been set for when Starbucks could introduce more kid-friendly beverages.
KC's View:
Admittedly, I have a bias here. Not only am I an enormous Starbucks fan and consumer, but my son until recently was a Starbucks barista. (He’s taking a break for his first semester at college, but plans to rejoin the company on a limited schedule next year.)

But when I look at those teens sitting around Starbucks sipping drinks and talking, I see a good thing. They’re not getting into trouble. They’re engaged in a kind of mature socialization ritual. There’s really little downside, except for the fact that sometimes I can’t get a seat.

I’m not sure about the nutritional aspect, but I’m a lot more comfortable with my teens sipping a hot Starbucks latte than guzzling energy drinks. (And if we adults are going to continue doing stupid things like asking teenagers to be wide awake in class as early as 7:30 in the morning, I suppose we have to live with the notion that they are going to need a little pick-me-up.)

Starbucks probably has to be careful about how far it goes in this area, but if the folks in Seattle want to create more kid-friendly beverage options for their stores, they should go right ahead.