(Corrects month of Via launch to September from November in second paragraph)
* Via reaches $100 mln sales mark faster than Frappuccino
* CEO says will soon announce new Via market, products
* Via to have “slightly positive contribution” to earnings
By Lisa Baertlein
LOS ANGELES, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O), the world’s biggest cafe chain, said on Monday that Via instant coffee, which it hopes to build into a billion-dollar business, has hit $100 million in sales in 10 months.
Starbucks launched Via in September 2009 to a skeptical investment community. The bulk of sales so far have come from the United States, where it is most widely available but where instant coffee is not as popular as it is in parts of Europe and Asia.
The pace of Via’s early sales puts it among only 3 percent of the U.S. products that hit $50 million in first-year sales, according to consultancy SymphonyIRI Group.
Frappuccino, widely viewed as Starbucks’ most successful consumer launch, took three years -- adjusted for inflation -- to reach $100 million in sales.
Starbucks, which has began to revitalise growth, said it expects Via to have a “slightly positive contribution” to earnings in the fiscal year ending Oct. 4, even as it puts significant marketing and advertising dollars behind the coffee brand.
Starbucks said Via will be available in 40,000 U.S. locations by the end of fiscal 2011, up from 37,000 today.
“We are continuing to drive steady increases in Via distribution,” Starbucks CEO and founder Howard Schultz said in a statement.
“In the next few weeks, we will announce new product innovation as well as an additional international market entry for Starbucks Via,” Schultz said.
The company currently offers Via in Colombia and Italian roasts, decaf and iced versions. It sells Via products in the United States, Canada, Britain and Japan.
Schultz recently told Reuters that he plans to expand sales into China within the next year. [ID:nN16108312]
The company on Monday declined to say which market would be next to introduce Via.
The top three instant coffee markets in 2009 were Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom with sales of $2.3 billion, $2.1 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively, according to market research firm Euromonitor. (Reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Dhara Ranasinghe)