When Did Starbucks Begin Selling Food?

Starbucks is undoubtedly the most successful coffee chain in the world. Its 2021 gross annual sales amounted to a whopping $29 billion,  and according to Zippia, it takes up 33% of the American market share. But while it's most well-known for its decadent coffee beverages — including a wide range of beloved festive drinks – its products go far beyond java. 

Starbucks now sells a full menu of food options to accompany your beverage of choice, including hot breakfasts, an array of pastries, lunch boxes, cake pops, and more. The Starbucks 2022 holiday menu alone features a chocolate pistachio swirl pastry, an adorable reindeer cake pop, and a jolly snowman cookie.

Although drinks are the chain's primary source of revenue, it's not doing too shabby with food sales either. According to Business Quaint, food products accounted for nearly 18% of Starbucks' revenue in the first quarter of 2022 with a number of individual items garnering their own fan bases. While expanding the menu was a smart move for the company, there was a time when it was unclear how well these food items would do. So exactly when, and how, did Starbucks decide to take the leap into food.

The first Starbucks breakfast sandwiches sold in 2003

If we travel back in time to the late-'00s, Starbucks wasn't doing too well as a business. Amidst the housing bubble crash, the company's total revenue dropped close to $1 billion in 2009, according to Seeking Alpha. In addition, Starbucks was forced to close about 900 stores. In an effort to restore the company to its glory of the early 2000s, former CEO Howard Schultz was brought back in 2008. He cited multiple reasons for the decline in revenue, such as negative public perception, competition from other chains, and a herd mentality within management (via Harvard Business Review).

To get Starbucks back on track, Schultz had to get creative. The CEO put the wheels in motion for new plans to expand, which included an instant-coffee brand, the acquisition of a bakery chain, and changes to the menu, per Britannica. Starbucks officially began selling food as early as 2003, but it wasn't an instant hit. According to NBC News, the first breakfast offerings that year included an egg sandwich with roasted peppers, red onion, and Colby jack cheese; it was replaced fairly quickly. But in 2006, Starbucks increased the number of stores selling breakfast sandwiches from 250 to 600.

One of the changes Schultz made in 2008 was to temporarily take hot breakfast sandwiches off the menu as he thought the smell overpowered the coffee. They came back new and improved, upgrading the original 2003 sandwiches with healthier ingredients (via Insider).