Starbuck's Vivanno A Good Addition, But Hardly Unique

If Starbuck’s is looking for its new Vivanno smoothies [

If Starbuck’s is looking for its new Vivanno smoothies [ “ Starbucks Sashays Into Smoothies”,” Businessweek Online, July 15]to substantially revitalize its menu and create a new buzz in the stores, I think they may be disappointed.

Recent comments by Starbuck’s chairman-CEO Howard Schultz talking up the product led me to believe it might be something substantially different than what I can find at my local tea and smoothie store, or even Jamba Juice.

Starbuck’s is testing Vivanno in California and Michigan. I got both versions of the new Vivanno at Starbuck’s on Main Street in Royal Oak, MI, just three blocks from our office. One is made with banana, milk, and an orange-mango-blend of juice, along with whey protein and fiber powder. The other is banana/chocolate.

I was given a coupon for free tastes this morning when I bought a latte and Naked protein juice smoothie. Like a lot of busy workers, I often grab a Naked or some other similar brand to have at my desk in case I don’t have time to get a more substantial lunch.

The chocolate has a somewhat chemical taste. It doesn’t really taste like chocolate, like one of those carob candy bars you get at a health-food store. It also reminds me of the Alba chocolate shakes I used to drink to lose weight and have as a meal replacement. That’s not an endorsement. It is smooth, not chalky, like some smoothies can be when fiber and whey are added. The standard serving size has 270 calories (the same as a serving of a Naked brand bottled smoothie), 16 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. There are no artificial flavors or colorings, says Starbucks. No corn syrup. There is one whole banana in each Vivanno.

The fact that it gets made on demand gives it a leg-up on the packaged smoothies it sells now. A Naked brand bottled smoothie has no fiber, though it does pack 4 additional grams of protein. The orange-mango is certainly better, in my book, than the banana chocolate.

Just as at Jamba Juice, you can customize your smoothie. Starbucks recommends adding a shot of espresso to chocolate/banana. Indeed, it did deepen the flavor and mitigate the dreaded Alba taste. Another suggestion is adding Green Tea Powder to the Orange-Mango Banana blend. That adds 40 calories, but also adds the antioxidants. I’ll save the calories and drink my tea later, thank you. Nonfat milk can be substituted for whole milk, or course. I found no appreciable loss of flavor when doing this.

Vivanno is, I think, a good addition to the menu, and will soon, I would think, displace the Naked brand (ready-to-drink bottles) from Starbuck's. Naked is the supplier of the juice used in the Vivanno. Given the choice between the two, I’d take the Vivanno. But something about it lacks the zip I was expecting when I first heard about a new product line coming to Starbuck’s. I wanted to think it was like nothing I’d ever had before. I have had this product many times, at my local smoothie shop and at Jamba Juice.

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