Meet the woman making cold drinks a hot ticket for Starbucks at Christmas

Cold coffee is a hot trend of late. Staying ahead of industry trends and answering evolving customer demands is an essential job for Rachel Chatterton. Rachel leads the team developing new drinks for Starbucks across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Rachel describes cold coffee as having “exploded” in the last two years, with customers increasingly enjoying the refreshing sensations cold coffee offers. Starbucks launched Cold Brew coffee in stores around the region in 2015 and Nitro Cold Brew in spring 2017, and this year’s Festive Cold Brew with Orange and Cranberry is the latest step to bring cold coffee to customers all year-round.

The Christmas period at Starbucks is synonymous with classic hot drinks like the Gingerbread Latte and Eggnog Latte, as well as the Fudge Hot Chocolate – which Rachel says is her personal favourite – but this innovation marks the first time a cold drink has been introduced as part of the Christmas UK menu.

“We really wanted to bring Cold Brew into the festive season,” she explains. Customers continue to explore Cold Brew and enjoy its different flavours. The decision to add a festive twist to Cold Brew was not just born out of the growth of cold coffee, however.

“Christmas isn’t just about feeling cosy and warm, people also like to enjoy refreshing drinks and flavours, especially around lunchtime. If you have been out Christmas shopping and come in for one of our Christmas sandwiches, you might want to pair that with a refreshing drink.” 

Bringing new drinks to life

Rachel’s role sees her lead the beverage side of the research and development team for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. A senior manager for beverage innovation, she develops the ideas and concepts, tests them out, finds flavours that work and brings them to life as a Starbucks drink. Since joining Starbucks in 2012, Rachel estimates she has created over 80 different drinks exclusively for the 41 countries in the region, allowing her to specialise in the tastes and trends of customers in specific countries.

When customers walk into a Starbucks store and see a new addition to the drinks menu, they are seeing the very final result of a development process that can take up to 12 months from the original source of inspiration, to creating the recipe, to then arriving in their hands in a Starbucks store. Customers always want to try new drinks and explore flavours and tastes, with beverage innovation at the heart of Starbucks new drinks, ideas and trends such as cold coffee are never far away.

Sources of Inspiration

Rachel’s team began working on the festive drinks menu around 12 months ahead of it arriving in stores, and so when one season launches Rachel is already thinking ahead to time next year. With such a constant demand for newness and innovation, Rachel finds inspiration for a new product in a wide variety of places.

“Most of our inspiration has to come from things that aren’t necessarily a drink. Textures, colours, aromas are all sources of ideas, which are used to explore possible drinks, which sometimes is best found through travel.” A trip to Scandinavia at Christmas is something Rachel names as a source of inspiration, visiting Christmas markets and trying flavours to explore what can be developed into a Starbucks beverage.

Even with such a constant stream of launching drinks, Rachel still describes seeing a product she has developed arrive in stores as her favourite aspect of the role. “I get a real kick out of seeing a new drink go live when it is something we have talked about and worked on in our development kitchens for so long.” She adds “when you get a person saying ‘I love this drink!’ it’s really satisfying to think you’ve made someone’s day a little bit happier and come up with something people enjoy.”