The 74th country in which Starbucks will open shops is also the first place that anyone ever had the idea for Starbucks. As the chain’s well-known origin story has noted, Howard Schultz loved the espresso culture in Italy and sought to bring it to the United States. But the version of this culture and experience that has made Starbucks into a global juggernaut is quite different from the traditional version of espresso consumption in Italy, raising questions about just how successful this specific international expansion will be.
In particular, in Italy, an espresso break means heading over to a small bar, where consumers receive small cups, with saucers, of the strong coffee, consumed quickly while standing up. They might chat for a few moments about the weather, the football league, or politics, but after a few minutes, the bar owner will shoo them out the door, to make room for the next consumers.
The experience at Starbucks is totally different of course, and for some traditionalists, the expectation that Italians would linger over sweetened drinks with made-up names, served in paper cups, is not just absurd but also a little horrifying. Paper cups!
However, some evidence suggests that there is room for both traditional bars and third space venues like Starbucks. Arnold Coffee is a four-store chain that has adopted the Starbucks model, offering free wi-fi, bagels and brownies, and cinnamon caffe lattes. Even its motto highlights its distinction, laying claim to offering “The American Coffee Experience.” Especially for younger consumers, as one student explained, “The experience at the traditional Italian bar, downing an espresso in two seconds, isn’t what I’m looking for. I need a place like this to study or meet friends or just relax.”
That is precisely what Starbucks offers, so the company expresses confidence in the expansion. At the same time, it is making some nods to local preferences. Starting in its first, Milan store, Starbucks will emphasize espresso more than it does in other international locations, where coffee drinkers prefer something a little lighter. It also will rely on local farmers to source milk and some of its food options. Although further expansions have not been announced yet, it seems like only a matter of time before the mermaid logo will appear on corners of cities throughout Italy, next to the espresso bars that line the streets today.
- Will Starbucks be successful in Italy? Why or why not?
Source: Dan Liefgreen and Chiara Albanese, Bloomberg, June 16, 2016