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A couple of examples emerged over the weekend of Starbucks seeming to do an about-face on established strategic decisions.

The Boston Globe reports that Starbucks, which only weeks ago announced that it would be closing 600 of its US stores that were not performing up to expectations – in many cases because of cannibalization because of stores placed too close together – is likely to sign a deal with Ahold-owned Stop & Shop to open as many as 130 cafés in the retailer’s stores beginning next year.

According to the story, the move will come as Stop & Shop has decided not to renew its lease with Dunkin’ Donuts, which currently operates cafés inside the stores.

The Globe writes, “Stop & Shop appears poised to expand a relationship with Starbucks it first began two years ago. Starbucks has 93 coffee stands operating inside Stop & Shop and its sister grocery chain Giant Food. Mark Espinosa, president of UFCW Local 919 in Connecticut that represents Stop & Shop employees, yesterday said he had been told by the grocer's labor relations executives that Starbucks would be taking over the Dunkin' sites.”

As of this posting, however, neither Stop & Shop nor Starbucks is commenting officially on the report.

While the change comes at a curious time – while Starbucks has been retrenching, Dunkin’ Donuts has been engaged in a national expansion effort – analysts say that the rationale may be Stop & Shop’s desire to eke out as much sales per square foot as possible, and the average transaction at Starbucks tends to be higher than at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“The Stop & Shop deal may also prove to be an exception for Starbucks,” the Globe writes. “The majority of its stores are company-operated, though in cases where it partners with a supermarket, the stores are jointly operated. On its website, Starbucks said it will ‘enter into licensing arrangements with companies who provide access to real estate which would otherwise be unavailable,’ listing national grocery chains as an example of this exception.”

Meanwhile, Retail Week reports that Starbucks has decided not to stop selling warm breakfast sandwiches at its US stores, but rather to reformulate them so that the smell does not overwhelm the aroma of coffee that CEO Howard Schultz determined to be more important to the Starbucks experience.

Schultz, however, positioned the move not as a reversal but rather as an evolution.

“We are not reversing our decision to replace the breakfast sandwiches, but rather we are continuing to evolve our food offerings,” he said. “We have found small ingredient changes that address the aroma issues of our current breakfast sandwiches, and have implemented these already.”

KC's View:
While I would concede that Starbucks has to grab opportunities when they emerge, the Stop & Shop deal just doesn’t seem to make sense. After all, how many Starbucks cafés are located near Stop & Shop supermarkets, providing even greater cannibalization of sales and possible diminishment of the brand?

As for the sandwich decision, as long as the low-fat turkey bacon breakfast sandwiches taste the same, I’m happy with this move…and I suspect that the dozens of people who wrote MNB bemoaning the original decision to eliminate the sandwiches will feel the same way.

However, the other question is whether Starbucks gets perceived as thinking tactically rather than strategically. I’m not sure at this point, but it could be that the company will get a reputation for dithering and desperation that it may not deserve, but that decisions like these will create.