The chain made famous for its coffee is taking steps to beef up its food business, by offering more gluten-free and vegan food options across U.S. stores starting Tuesday, according to a press release.
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Gluten-conscious customers can now enjoy Starbucks' first gluten-free breakfast sandwich, which is comprised of Canadian bacon, an egg patty and cheddar cheese on a gluten-free roll.
Starbucks said the sandwich will be prepared in a "certified gluten-free environment" and sealed in its own bag in order to avoid any gluten contamination, which can pose serious threats to those individuals who have celiac disease.
While only a small percentage of the population have celiac disease, there are a growing number of consumers, who aren't gluten intolerant but who want to omit the protein from their diet for lifestyle purposes.
"You have this whole group of consumers who believe gluten isn't good for you," Technomic Chief Insights Officer Darren Tristano told CNBC in an interview. Many are younger consumers, Tristano said, "and if you're not speaking their language, you risk losing [them]."
The gluten-free food market is expected to grow at an annual rate of roughly 12 percent through 2021, according to global research group Technavio. The Americas maintained the greatest market share during 2016 and will continue to lead the market for the next few years, the group said.
"The [U.S.] region offers numerous growth opportunities for players involved in the gluten-free food business," Technavio wrote in its latest report, saying some of the biggest vendors in this space include General Mills, Kellogg and Kraft Heinz Company.
Starbucks isn't the first in the fast-food industry to test gluten-free offerings, either.
"To be honest, they're kind of late to the party," Technomic's Tristano said. He added that it's surprising McDonald's hasn't tested gluten-free options, considering the chain is a leader in the space.
In 2013, Dunkin' Donuts was planning to roll out gluten-free donuts across stores nationwide, but after a quiet product test it ran in select markets, the idea was scrapped.
Going gluten free isn't always easy to get right, Tristano said, and it will be more of a test for Starbucks rather than an initial revenue driver.
"I don't see that this will have a dramatic impact on [Starbucks] sales but will help more with retention of customers," Tristano explained. "This is designed to build trust with customers so they respect your brand."
On Tuesday, the coffee giant also announced the launch of a vegan-friendly sprouted grain bagel, an organic avocado spread, two new fruit-filled yogurt parfaits and a peanut butter cup cookie. All of these items will be available in Starbucks' U.S. stores starting Tuesday, the release said, just in time for the change of seasons.
In its latest quarterly earnings release, Starbucks reported sales from food and other consumer packaged goods of $661.2 million, up 6.3 percent from $622.3 million during the same period one year earlier. In its U.S. stores alone, Starbucks said revenue from the food segment grew 15.2 percent year over year.
Starbucks will hold its annual shareholder meeting at its headquarters in Seattle, Washington, on Wednesday.
SOURCE Lauren Thomas, CNBC
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