NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Coffee giant Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Report is ramping up its efforts to become an evening-time destination for drinks and food, but investors might want to temper their enthusiasm for the new plans.
The Seattle-based chain this week will bring its "Evenings" menu of craft beer and wine, and group friendly small dinner plates to new markets in Denver, Miami, Orlando and Northern California. After the roll-out, about 75 stores will be offering the new menu and Starbucks sees it being available at about 2,000 stores in the U.S., or 20% to 25% of its more than 12,000 locations, by fiscal year 2019. The company has pegged the sales opportunity for Starbucks at a cool $1 billion by 2019.
Starbucks first launched its evenings menu in 2010 at its Olive Way location in Seattle, and the latest move is part of the coffee king's long-running effort to be seen by people as a "third place" in addition to home and work.
"It's over 20 years now that we have talked about the relevancy of the 'third place,' the truth of the matter is that the third place that we have established all over the world has become as relevant as the product itself," said chairman and CEO Howard Schultz on a July 23, earnings call. Schultz added that "we believe that we are a long way from the average unit volume of a Starbucks store achieving its ceiling, and I think one of the unique strengths that we've developed over the last couple of years is being able to identify 'need states' and then to link that need state with the right product made for our customers in a customized fashion."
The stock market has handsomely rewarded Starbucks' ability to extract more profits from each store by identifying those customer "need states." For example, the company introduced Teavana iced teas to cater to non-coffee drinkers, and boosted the number of quickly prepared sandwiches for people on the go.
"I have never thought beer and wine would be important," said TheStreet'sJim Cramer, Portfolio Manager of the Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. "I do think having a night part to go with a day part could be very lucrative so I think it could be all upside, which is still one more reason why we like Starbucks for actionalertsplus.com."
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Over the past year, Starbucks shares have gained an impressive 46% compared to a 5% increase for the S&P 500 and 2.7% advance for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. And in the last six months alone, Starbucks' stock has zoomed 22%, as investors have become enthusiastic over the profit potential from the company's new mobile order and pay function starting to hit stores.
Starbucks' latest evening plans could boost sales and stock gains even further, but establishing itself as an evening hotspot is not without significant challenges and risks.
First of all, Starbucks isn't making the evenings menu available in every location simply because some stores are too small to handle group tables and seats. Moreover, space in the back of the house to store the extra food and drinks has to be made. A typical Starbucks store is only 1,700 square feet, with locations such as those at grocery stores and airports being far smaller.
Then there is the intense competition in the evenings hour business. Not only will Starbucks be going up against popular local bars with more extensive liquor and dinner menus, but it will also come into competition with large casual dining restaurants such as DineEquity's (DIN) - Get Report Applebee's, Brinker International's (EAT) - Get Report Chili's and Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) . All three publicly trading casual diners within the past year have overhauled their menus to include shareable platters and improved food quality.
And finally, Starbucks runs the risk of cutting into its lucrative morning business by tempting people to spend money on beer and wine in the evening. Psychologically, customers might not want to spend as much on coffee or breakfast if they know they're also planning another trip to Starbucks in the evening.