Recently I read an article on Starbuck’s planned expansion into new European territories.
Over the years, I have had a love hate relationship with the Starbucks brand. In the early years, when I lived in Vancouver and then Calgary, I was an early adopter to Starbucks and its blend of atmosphere and coffee knowledge.
In those days, the focus was on the coffee (and the community you were in). The baristas knew their coffee – and you could talk with them about the beans, about the flavour and about the origin of each and every coffee in the store.
This was a place to relax, a place to communicate and a place to disappear. In addition, it was a place not everyone liked (the coffee was too strong, too expensive or too confusing), so you could revel in your anti-establishment choice of venue and product!
That was my understanding of the brand – Starbucks loved coffee, cared for the people that made the coffee, and they wanted to share their experience with the consumer.
But as the company has become ubiquitous in the marketplace, it also appears to have lost some of that cache (perhaps only to the coffee lovers that first engaged with the brand).
But try this – go into most Starbucks outlets now and ask a barista now to compare the elements of the new Ethiopian coffee with the old Ethiopian Sidamo that the store used to carry and you will get a blank stare (I have tried it in several stores). Ask a barista to talk about the community the single farm coffee comes from and they will generally just be annoyed you are holding up the line (in the past, part of the experience was to talk about the coffee you were getting – see local wine shops for examples).
To expand their product offerings, the company now ships in frozen baked goods from other regions, and sells them in store – proving they are not as in love with their baking as they used to be about their coffee.
Today, the company is experimenting on the west coast with alcohol service in the evening – basically indicating that the old store model of “coffee for coffee lovers” is no longer sufficient – or that the old Starbucks brand is seeking to go so main stream that it no longer cares about the coffee-lover branding.
And now Starbucks is entering Italy – the HOME of the espresso, latte and cappuccino. The article provides an argument on how this experiment may possibly succeed. It will be interesting to watch the expansion and the subsequent reaction in Italy!