Italian baristas, smile: you are already in the future (if you want to be)

by Carlo Odello *

A flash of lightning across the serene sky of the American coffee scene: Starbucks, the giant of the 16,000 cafes scattered between the four corners of the earth, gambles its name.  As Jason Daley’s optimal article for Entrepreneur Magazine reports, this summer the colossus from Seattle opened a new cafe.  However, it was not called Starbucks; instead, they named it, "15th Ave Coffee and Tea," decorated in a completely different style and operated by a completely different mindset than the traditional cafes.

Why would an international chain whose very trademark became its driving force, a shamelessly global business that serialized the cafe concept, suddenly try to play it local?  One simple motive: it needs to return to the community and connect to its territories to make the consumer perceive it in a different way.  It is no longer the great homogenous chain, the coffee empire over which the sun will never set; instead, it is becoming a social place in service of the community.

The good news for Italian baristas: you are ahead of Starbucks. You are already local, you already serve your communities, you are already part of the social fabric; more accurately, you help build it.  Besides, the Seattle colossus admitted it: Italy is a difficult market, with a capillaceous presence, rooted and diffused in its tens of thousands of cafes.  Frankly put: a nightmare for the commercial logic of Starbucks.

The bad news for the Italian baristas: you are behind Starbucks.  Most of you do not do any marketing whatsoever.  The overwhelming majority of your cafes all look the same: even though they are not part of any chain, they are still characterized by that conformity typical of franchises, almost always offering the same banal and homologous products.  And yet, one could do so much more with very little: in addition to paying closer attention to the coffee, which wouldn’t hurt anyone, why not start thinking of ways to make these cafes truly unique?

Dear Italian baristas, take from Starbucks a different way of marketing. You have the advantage of being local, something for which the American giant now aspires. One step further and you will be in the future.

* Trainer and member of the board of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters

Poland: Starbuck’s American dream is here

from correspondent Elisabetta Wierzchowska *

The first Starbucks venue was inaugurated on one of Warsaw’s main streets on 8th April soon followed, on 17th April, by the second premises in Wroclaw, a city with 640,000 inhabitants situated in south-west Poland. Both coffee shops were crammed straight away, mainly by school students who associate Strabuck’s image to the fulfilment of their American dream.

The interviews clearly indicate that youths consider the Seattle based chain as a positive sign of globalization. Many of them crowd the venue because, as they declare, they have already experienced Starbuks during trips abroad to Spain and Great Britain. The image of these youngsters queuing in front of the premises brings back memories of communist days, when shops supplies run short, even primary goods. While nowadays young people patiently wait for their turn to get hold of a cup featuring the famous Starbucks logo.

Very interesting is the sensory assessment, given by the young customers, comparing Starbuck’s products to those of Coffee Heaven, number one Polish chain in the country, launched in 2000 and now boasting 86 venues located throughout Poland and other Central European countries.

The boys and girls that took part in the interview declared they prefer Starbucks rather than Coffee Heaven because it is "better, less adulterated, more genuine, and you can taste more coffee in the coffee". The young consumers also appreciate the fact that coffee is served in a china cup, and not in a paper one  as usual happens in many Coffee Heaven cafés, because it makes them feel more comfortable and at home.

A main feature to bear in mind to understand why youths prefer Starbucks involves their habit of drinking coffee with 30, or even 40, cl of milk.  At Starbuks’ you can choose your favourite milk from a selection: from skimmed to soya. Such a broad range is assessed very positively by young consumers as they like accompanying their favourite drink with milk as well as with syrup, mainly caramel.

And what about espresso? They declare they drink it only when it is essential to stay awake, just on special occasions…Much better a coffee with ice-cream or the big favourite, American coffee. In other words, young Polish generations enjoy their coffee with plenty of milk and syrup, the coffee type which was launched by Coffee Heaven over the last years and that could now be affected by Starbuck’s competition.

* Elisabetta Wierzchowska is a biologist fond of Italy and of its life style.  In 1996 she set up a venue with her husband. In 2006 she started to import and distribute Italian coffee, with the aim of divulging our country’s culture in Poland. She is also a taster for the International Institute of Coffee Tasters, an Espresso Italiano Specialist and a sensory analysis panel leader.

UK: coffee bar market still growing despite recession, consumers looking for independent coffee shops

A new report by management consultancy, Allegra Strategies, shows that the number of branded coffee shops will reach 4,000 UK outlets this year, representing an industry growth of more than 5% in the past 12 months, despite the UK being in deep recession. While many sectors of the economy have faced their worst trading period for 60 years, branded coffee shops remain on track to record a 15th consecutive year of sales.

Interviews conducted in April 2009 with more than 130 senior coffee executives and key suppliers reveal that trading has been difficult over the past 6 months, yet branded coffee shop operators have weathered the storm well and remain firmly optimistic about opportunities ahead. Nearly two-thirds of branded coffee operators have shown flat or growing like-for-like sales performance in the last two quarters. The industry remains on track to reach £2billion in consumer spend by 2012.

Continued growth in outlets by the larger players, as well as firmly entrenched consumer eating-out behaviour are main reasons why the sector is holding up well in the economic downturn. Consumers may be trading down when they can, and they are certainly more demanding with their choice of outlet, but few British consumers, it seems, are prepared to forgo the luxury of their daily or weekly cappuccino or latte. Moreover, in these difficult times ‘affordable’ treats are an important way for many to get through the recession, and what Allegra calls the ‘I’m worth it’ factor.

Allegra’s research identifies a growing trend towards more authentic individual coffee shops serving hand-crafted quality coffee. Allegra’s research indicates that today’s consumers are increasingly looking for higher quality coffee real ‘experience’ and localness. Large, branded, ubiquitous chains frequently do not fully cater for the needs of the most progressive consumers.

Full results of the research will be presented at Allegra’s UK Coffee Leader Summit at the Waldorf Hotel, Aldwych London on 19 May 2009. The summit will play host to more than 250 leading executives in the coffee sector.