viva(vē'və, -vä') interj.
Used to express acclamation, salute, or applause.
[Italian and Spanish, (long) live, both from Latin vīvat, third person sing. present subjunctive of vīvere, to live.]
Sep 2nd 2008
Innovative things to do with a banana
“BEHOLD, the atheist’s nightmare,” declares Ray Comfort, an Australian evangelist, as he holds up a banana in a hugely popular video on YouTube. The fruit, he says, testifies to God’s creative genius. It comes with a colour-coding system that shows when it is ready to eat (green is too early, black too late); an easily gripped, biodegradable wrapper; and a “tab at the top” which, unlike that on a can of soda, works so well that when you pull it “the contents don’t squirt in your face.”
Not everyone is convinced. One video response points out that the banana only achieved its user-friendly qualities through evolution over many centuries of farming.
But Howard Schultz certainly seems to regard the banana as the answer to his prayers for the recovery of his ailing drinks company, Starbucks. Since July 15th, the firm has been selling two new smoothie-style drinks called Vivanno, both of which are based on an entire banana—one blended with chocolate, the other with a mixture of mango and orange juices.
Mr Schultz, who earlier this year returned to the helm of the company he built into a global giant, deserves credit for trying to return Starbucks to its old approach to innovation, which was all about incremental product variation around a central platform. Just as three drink sizes and various types of coffees, milks and syrups became the core ingredients that people could customise to suit their own tastes, so Vivanno is aiming to take Starbucks into the smoothie trade (popularised by Jamba Juice) without greatly altering its production methods.
Go into a Jamba Juice store, and a team of people frantically peels and mixes fruits and powders. With a Vivanno, a barista must simply peel a banana (the simplest of tasks, thanks to God or several centuries of farmers), which is placed into a blender already in stores for producing iced frappuccino drinks. Happily, there have been no reports of baristas—let alone customers—slipping on stray banana skins.
Already, baristas and customers are suggesting new combinations involving Vivanno ingredients and traditional Starbucks products on the firms social networking website, Mystarbucksidea.com. Ideas include mixing the orange-mango juice with cream to produce something that tastes “just like an Orange Creamsicle” (sic) or mixing the smoothies with the firm’s Tazo teas. And customers are being invited to add a shot of espresso to the banana-chocolate Vivanno.
Certainly, the simple addition of bananas to the Starbucks mix seems to be working more, er, smoothly than the previous big innovation, the hot breakfast sandwich, which required bulky additional equipment and confused customers and baristas alike as to where the sandwich should change hands after heating.
Yet the Vivanno’s taste has received a mixed reception: some customers find it chalky and artificial. Certainly, Mr Schultz was getting carried away when he said to Portfolio magazine recently, “Tell me this isn’t, like, over-the-top! Is that fantastic?”
Your correspondent suspects that many of the grumbling customers have grown so accustomed to the sugar and other fattening ingredients in Starbucks’ drinks that the Vivanno’s natural taste (the fruit provides all the sugar) took them by surprise. Other customers may welcome a healthier option.
Clearly, the Vivanno alone will not revive Starbucks, which expanded too fast and diluted its quality and culture in the process. Getting the store closures right and finding other new products will be crucial.
But the banana beverage may be the turning point. It seems to be catching on with the many Starbucks customers who have complained over the years about the company’s descent into the obesity business. One of the many Starbucks outlets near The Economist’s New York office is selling the Vivanno at four times its target volumes. The firm’s share price, which hit a five-year low the day before the Vivanno was introduced, has since risen by around 10%. If not exactly proof of the existence of God, this does at least suggest that even fallen companies can have some hope of resurrection.