Like a Barista Who Can't Work the Espresso Machine, La Boulange Gets Demoted at Starbucks

Scott Lucas | April 1, 2014 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

Case file #945 of how San Francisco is just a little too cool for the rest of the country: Starbucks is tacitly admitting that the La Boulange pastries it has been serving ever since it bought the San Francisco chain are, well, a little too hip for the room. So just like Jefferson Airplane becoming Starship, Starbucks is easing off that San Francisco feel for a something with a little more mass appeal.

Like sliced lemon cake.

Today, Bloomberg reports that Starbucks is responding to consumer dissatisfaction with La Boulange pastries by bringing back several popular pastries from earlier incarnations of its menu. Those include the lemon cake, as well as banana and pumpkin cake. Consumer complaints had focused on the size and cost of the new pastries. For instance, the new blueberry scone is 17 percent smaller than the older one, although it does have 70 fewer calories.

Back in 2012, Starbucks bought La Boulange, the local cafe chain run by Pascal Rigo for $100 million, putting him in charge of revamping the chain's pastries. As we wrote at the time, "Rigo’s greatest challenge won’t be pacifying San Francisco’s restive community groups; it will be supplying Starbucks’s vast needs without sacrificing the quality that won him the deal in the first place."

But that might not be the goal anymore. According to Bloomberg, the pastry moves come as Starbucks is facing steep competition during breakfast from fast food chains like McDonald's, Burger King, and Taco Bell. Bloomberg quoted Bob Goldin, executive vice president at Chicago-based restaurant research firm Technomic Inc as saying of Starbucks, "I don’t think they have any sustained momentum in breakfast," he said in an interview. "They do OK." (To review: A grown adult trained and worked very hard for many years to be in a position where he could speak with authority in public on breakfast momentum.)

In related news, bananas are an extremely convenient, healthy, and delicious breakfast food, available widely at minimal cost.

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