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Starbucks’s gimmicky new drink: ‘As good as Unicorn or better’

The Midnight Mint Mocha Frappuccino. (Courtesy of Starbucks)

The Unicorn Frappuccino — the pink-and-blue social media sensation that “tastes like sour birthday cake and shame” — is so last week, according to Starbucks executives.

Starting today, Starbucks is rolling out another drink aimed at the Instagram crowd: A jet-black frozen concoction called the Midnight Mint Mocha Frappuccino, made with cocoa and whipped cream, and “infused” with mint sugar crystals. It is topped with more whipped cream and a “dusting of dark cocoa.”

“We started by thinking of the heydays of summer,” Jennica Robinson, of the Starbucks beverage development team, said in a statement. “We were inspired by thoughts of dark starry nights, looking up at the sky with a cool summer breeze.”

Plus, the news release added, the drink “also taps into the dark food trend popular in social media, such as black macarons and charcoal ice cream.”

Why ‘basic’ is bad for Starbucks

The company is also bringing back its S’mores Frappuccinos. The elaborate drinks are part of Starbucks’s annual Frappuccino Happy Hour promotion, which begins Friday and runs through May 14. During that time, customers can get half-price Frappuccinos between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“We have got singular focus on Happy Hour this year,” Kevin Johnson, the company’s newly anointed chief executive, said in a call with investors last week. “We’re going to bring at least one entirely new drink into Happy Hour this year that is going to be as good as Unicorn or better.”

That’s not to say the Unicorn Frappuccino, which Starbucks offered for five days in late April, didn’t have its share of detractors. “Sickeningly sweet,” Business Insider called it. “It tastes like I French-kissed Tinker Bell,” Steven Colbert said of the drink, which had 59 grams of sugar per 16-ounce serving.

A “grande” mint mocha Frappuccino, by comparison, has 52 grams of sugar (roughly the equivalent of seven Reese’s Peanut Butter cups). It also comes with 25 grams of fat (about the same as a Big Mac) and 470 calories (equivalent to 10 Chicken McNuggets).

“Don’t wait to dig in,” Starbucks says on its site. “This chocolate-lovers dream is only here for a limited time.”

The company is hoping the look of the new drink, coupled with the limited-time availability, will help drum up buzz on social media sites like Instagram and Twitter.

“Just stay tuned because we have a lot more coming,” Howard Schultz, the company’s former chief executive, said last week. He credited the unicorn drink for driving “significant traffic, awareness [and] brand affinity” to the chain, which in recent quarters has struggled with disappointing sales.

Shares of Starbucks tumbled 4 percent last week after the company posted disappointing same-store sales for the second quarter in a row. (In 2016, the company’s stock fell 7.5 percent for similar reasons.)

Starbucks — the world’s third-largest restaurant chain, behind Subway and McDonald’s — last year reported annual revenue of $21.32 billion, nearly triple what it did a decade earlier.

Still, the chain has tried — and often failed — to beef up sales by adding novelty items to its menus. Earlier this year, the company said it would stop selling beer and wine, as well as small plates like truffle mac and cheese and bacon-wrapped figs at its stores. Those additions, rolled out with much fanfare a few years ago, had failed to resonate with customers.

But, company executives said, they had high hopes for their new Midnight Mocha drink.

“People are gravitating toward vibrant colors,” said Ryan Coombes, Starbucks’s beverage development manager, no doubt referring to the popularity of the Unicorn Frappuccino.

But, he added: “Jet black is filling the void in unexpected places.”

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