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Should sandwich chains be worried about Starbucks?

Starbucks has expanded its food selections from scones and muffins to more-filling sandwiches. Should other fast food chains and independent sandwich shops be worried?

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    Starbucks' Chicken Artichoke Panini. Starbucks has expanded its food selections from scones and muffins to more-filling sandwiches.
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When Starbucks’ food menu was scones and muffins it easily could be dismissed as a competitive threat to quick-service and fast-casual chains. But the appearance of beef on its summer menu reaffirms just how much Starbucks has become a foodservice force with which burger and sandwich chains—and independents—must reckon.

In addition to several new snack items, Starbucks says it is adding “unique lunch and dinner options,” and its mention of dinner should set off alarms in every restaurant that caters to that daypart. Saying it is accommodating customers “who have requested a heartier sandwich,” Starbucks’ summer menu includes a BBQ Beef Brisket on Sourdough, a meaty sandwich with a fast-casual pedigree.

“The recipe was inspired by our product development team’s West Coast roots,” said Ellie Halevy, Starbucks VP- Food., in a release announcing the menu. “This sandwich was crafted with high-quality ingredients including iconic San Francisco-Style sourdough, roasted onions braised in Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock Beer and Sonoma Jack cheese, both from Northern California.”

Also on the menu is a Chicken Santa Fe Sandwich that puts the Chicken Artichoke Panini it introduced earlier this year on Ancient Grain Flatbread. Both new sandwiches are a reasonable 510 calories.

Starbucks says its “warm sandwiches”—which are only a step away from hot offerings, including burgers—are priced from $5.45 to $6.45. This is above the top tier of QSR burger prices but is competitive (even if it continues to raise prices) with Arby’s, Subway, Smashburger, Shake Shack and many others. Shake Shack this week introduced a Chicken Shack fried-chicken sandwich LTO priced at $6.29.

Starbucks sandwich line also includes Turkey Pesto Panini; Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella Panini; Turkey Rustico Panini; Old-Fashioned Grilled Cheese; Chicken BLT Salad Sandwich; Egg Salad Sandwich; and Turkey and Havarti Sandwich. If you hadn’t noticed, this is more than a coffee shop.

The summer menu also expands Starbucks’ line of grab-and-go foods, adding a trendy Omega-3 Bistro Box in the category that already had a Protein Bistro Box, Cheese and Fruit Bistro Box and Thai-Style Peanut Chicken Wrap. The new entrée has smoked wild Alaskan salmon cream cheese spread, edamame hummus, Omega-3-infused trail mix with dark chocolate chunks, wheat-free crackers and cucumbers. Edamame hummus also is being introduced as a wrap.

There also is Prosciutto and Mozzarella Pinwheel Bistro Box that is being tested in Orlando, Fla., and San Diego. It features prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella, lemon-artichoke dip, olive oil and sea salt crackers, bell peppers, grapes and a chocolate truffle bar. Few fast-casual chains—even millennial fave Chipotle—can compete with that much trendiness.

How much of a competitive force is Starbucks? Consider that it has more than 7,300 U.S. locations. And even though its new snack items will be available only in Starbucks’ 3,400 major-metropolitan stores, that’s still a greater presence than can be mustered by either of the chains often cited as “stealth” competitors for burger concepts’ dollars: Tim Hortons (less 1,000 U.S. stores) and Chick-fil-A (less than 2,000 stores). Keep watching Starbucks.

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