The Starbucks Stops Here

We can go a bit silly about fashionable brands. Now, I have drunk Starbucks coffee on several continents, and while it was at times an enjoyable experience, I have often found it weak and over-priced. So while I will watch with interest to see the quality and affordability of the new Starbucks shops which Taste Holdings will be bringing to ZA, I worry about the success of the venture.
Taste is already involved in court battles with a group of businessmen who believe they instead should have won the franchise to bring Domino’s Pizza to ZA, and I have written about this recently on ZA Confidential. It is no surprise that the winners of the pizza prize have also been awarded the coffee cup, as the two brands often go hand in hand in global franchise agreements, or so my friends in the food trade tell me.
Starbucks is unlikely to want to shed its premium status in the roll out in the ZA market, so I would expect Taste to target the affluent consumer – the type already being well served by the Seattle Coffee Company brand, which has for long been our local leader in fine coffee provision, at least as far as I am concerned, and which I believe took a lot of expertise from the US model. Were Seattle able to also offer hot food at breakfast time, I am convinced it would have an even brighter future, and would easily grab market share from many of the rival outlets which may know how to boil an egg, but have yet to produce an impressive cup of coffee.
Has Domino’s triumphed yet in the ZA market? I have tried their pizzas and they are good, and I would like to think their frequent promotions are just good marketing and not a sign of sluggish business.
Of course, the Starbucks experience is more than just about coffee. I have been known to linger over a few coffees for some time in the mornings in my own favourite coffee shops, taking advantage of the free wi-fi. If local Starbucks outlets can replicate this experience with a welcoming atmosphere and efficient staff, then they will attract a following. And I think that the trend in other countries to also offer wine in the evenings at Starbucks outlets is one we should hope for in SA, expecially given the scarcity of good local wine bars and the variety of superb local wines.
But do get it right. I have just had my first coffee of the morning in a Sandton coffee outlet attached to a Virgin gym. It was not nice. I did recently refuse to order coffee there for some weeks because it was not nice coffee, but wanted to see if there had been much improvement. Why they can’t get this basic offering right eludes me, as so many others do get it right.
The ZA Starbucks coffee shops cannot afford too many teething problems, especially as they will be likely to price their coffee well above the rates of the many fast food chains. Word of mouth and social media can do wonders for a new business, but can also kill it.
Starbucks is a brand which has been out of the ZA market – except in a few outlets such some Tsogo Sun hotels. Its real arrival will be welcomed, as is shown by some of the more hysterical media reaction to the announcement of the Taste franchise deal.
But, for me, the proof of the coffee will be in the drinking.

Tweets of the Day: (@famousquotenet): Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. – James Bovard
Mick Carter (@big_mick_carter): “Ladies & Gents.” Well, that concludes our tour of the toilets.

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