| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) is going "Blonde," expanding its coffee lineup with its lightest roast to date in a move aimed at wooing more customers and capturing a bigger share of the U.S. coffee market.
The world's biggest coffee company is known for its dark roasts, which have prompted some critics to say the chain's coffee tastes burned.
The new, lighter roast unveiled on Tuesday is milder in body and acidity than Starbucks' traditional coffees. Executives said customers had been asking for a lighter roast and they expect Blonde to appeal to a broad audience.
Mass-market competitors McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) and Dunkin' Donuts (DNKN.O) offer milder brewed coffees and in recent years have added lattes, mochas and other sorts of "fancy" espresso drinks popularized by Starbucks.
"This is a significant opportunity for Starbucks to gain a greater share of the brewed coffee market -- both in our stores and down the coffee aisle," Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks Americas, said in a statement.
The U.S. packaged coffee category is valued at $5.6 billion.
According to Starbucks research, more than 40 percent of U.S. coffee drinkers -- or about 54 million consumers -- prefer a lighter roast coffee, Jeff Hansberry, president of channel development for Starbucks, told Reuters.
Additionally, more than 70 percent of all packaged coffee sales in the grocery aisle are either light or medium roasted coffee, Hansberry said.
The company will begin selling its new Blonde blends in Starbucks cafes and supermarkets in the United States on January 10. They will be available in Canada in February.
Starbucks cafes also will brew a Blonde blend alongside its other daily coffees. Breakfast Blend is currently the lightest coffee available at Starbucks, while French Roast is at the darkest end of the roast spectrum.
Starbucks' last major addition to its brewed coffee lineup came in 2008, when it introduced Pike Place as an "everyday" brew. Chief Executive Howard Schultz later that year said Pike Place gave the company an incremental bump in sales.
The company debuted Via instant coffee in 2009 and expects it to one day grow into a billion-dollar business.
Starbucks restarted profit growth in 2010 after a two-year restructuring that involved slashing costs and shuttering almost 1,000 cafes globally. Since then, investors have enjoyed quarterly profits that often topped analysts' views.
Starbucks shares -- up roughly 80 percent since the beginning of 2010 -- gained 2 percent to $41.99 on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Dave Zimmerman)