Even if I did not need so much beauty sleep, it is quite unlikely that I would queue all night for a cup of coffee, as some silly sods did when the first SA Starbucks coffee shop opened in Rosebank recently. I have drunk Starbucks coffee in many parts of the world, enjoy it, but while I admire all the hype and marketing, a long queue is not for me.
Taste Holdings, which came under fire from rivals over the way they earlier secured the Domino’s Pizza franchise, is behind the ZA Starbucks rollout, and I was interested to get some grasp of their strategy when I attended their latest presentation to analysts.
I was recently in the UK where I visited a few Starbucks outlets, which ranged from traditional coffee shops to a rather cold and windy outlet at Reading rail station. I never had a bad coffee in the UK, although I did feel slightly cheated by the large ratio of foam to liquid in the cappuccinos – a tactic for selling air at a high price.
There are now two Starbucks outlets in SA – the Rosebank one and another in the new Mall of Africa in Midrand. A third is planned for this calendar year.
I fully understand that the aim in SA is to offer comfortable, cozy and attractive stores, that there are problems in getting the right locations, and that this will take time.
However, it is hard to accept that you can boast a national franchise with just three stores, and I did not get the impression that the roll-out will be accelerated much next year either. It seems to be a roll-out with square wheels rather than round ones. Maybe that is an appropriate way of looking at it, as they could be adding some drive-by outlets.
It was also interesting to learn that there were teething troubles with the Domino’s launch in SA, with staff training appearing to be one of the major headaches. Many lessons will be learnt from this, and will be applied to Starbucks.
As well as a business card draw with prizes of nice watches and pens, a few vouchers for Taste outlets and the traditional information booklets, analysts were each offered a free bag of Starbucks coffee beans.
There were tables serving brewed coffee, but from small and nasty paper cups, which I found a bit of a contrast to the image they are trying to project.
And then there was the food – all prepared by the Starbucks team but brought in for their guests.
As we left the presentation, there was table loaded with sweet stuff, but no sign of the savoury food, which was dribbled out of the kitchens a bit later.
The cheesecake was a bit bland and was icy in the middle, there was a pastry thing which looked as if it might have been stuffed with apple or custard or something tasty, but which turned out to be stuffed with more pastry. The chocolate cookies were excellent and I must confess that I pocketed a few for a teatime treat.
I did not sample everything, because the hot food then began to arrive. Not really to my taste. The pulled pork sandwich was completely underwhelming, with no flavor at all, the croissants with ham and cheese had a filling which was so bland it could as easily have been left out. The chicken salad was good, but the Coronation chicken wraps were incredibly under-flavoured and really did not delight. There were bite-sized toasted sandwiches which I found really horrid, and I am normally a great fan of such sandwiches.
So while I have every confidence that once the queues die down a bit, I will be able to get a tasty Starbucks coffee, I do hope they take a long and serious look at their food offerings. When in England recently I consumed both sweet and savoury Starbucks products, was not that impressed by them, but certainly they were far superior to the SA offerings.
My current favourite local coffee chain is the Seattle Coffee Company, which produces delicious brews, and has pleasant but pricy food. Maybe the Taste Holdings people should do a bit more tasting?
Tweet of the Day
Andy Ryan (@ItsAndyRyan): I had a joke about a neutered cat but it had been done already.
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