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Starbucks makes a $100 million bet on food start-ups with new venture fund

Amelia Lucas
  • Starbucks is holding its annual shareholders meeting Wednesday.
  • The company announced it will start updating stores in New York City this summer.
  • The coffee giant also announced a $100 million anchor investment in a venture capital fund with Valor Equity Partners.

Ahead of its annual shareholders meeting Wednesday, Starbucks SBUX said it will target two areas to boost future growth: start-ups and improving its in-store experience.

Starbucks announced a $100 million investment in a new venture fund with Valor Equity Partners, which has previously invested in Tesla TSLA and SpaceX. The fund will give the coffee giant the first look at food and retail start-ups.

Valor Siren Ventures Fund marks the first time that Starbucks has made this kind of investment, but it follows CEO Kevin Johnson tech-heavy focus for the company. In his roughly two years as chief executive, he has pushed the company into delivery and increased its digital engagement with customers. Prior to joining Starbucks, Johnson served as CEO of tech company Juniper Networks JNPR and as an executive at Microsoft MSFT .

Investing in start-ups has become increasingly popular in the last few years among other food companies adjusting to changing consumer tastes, an issue that Starbucks is trying to address as less customers sip its calorie-heavy Frappucinos. Struggling food giant Kraft Heinz KHC launched its own fund in October, following the example of Big Food rivals Campbell Soup, CPB Kellogg K and General Mills GIS .

The fund plans to raise an additional $300 million from outside investors in the coming months.

The Seattle-based company also announced plans to update its stores starting with New York City locations this summer. It teased the changes at its investor day in December. Starbucks has long branded its stores as "the third place," a social spot between home and the office.

"I don't want anyone to walk away today thinking this is about furniture or a new renovation strategy," COO Roz Brewer said in a statement. "Reimagining the third place is about listening to our customers so we can better position our business now and for the future."

Starbucks did not share how it plans to refresh the cafes nor how it will finance those plans. Brewer said the changes will focus on convenience, comfort and connection.

While the company did not said it would involve renovating stores, the concept goes beyond that to include technology and new products. It also said that it plans to seek customer input as it revamps the stores.

The announcement comes as Starbucks has been working to expand delivery through Uber Eats to nearly a quarter of its U.S. locations. Other restaurant companies have been remodeling their locations to account for how delivery and digital pick-up orders change foot traffic. Chipotle CMG , for example, is testing drive-thru lanes called Chipotlanes for digital orders only, while McDonald's MCD is pushing franchisees to remodel their stores with high tech updates.

Starbucks also announced Wednesday that it plans to test recyclable and compostable cups in several of its markets later this year as it looks to reduce waste.



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