Italy’s Espresso is too Strong for Starbucks

Starbucks recently made headlines by opening its first ever store in Italy. Italy, the country where espresso came from, is not really big on fancy, sweetened, or iced coffee. So, what pushed the coffee chain giant to the edge and open up a store in an obviously unwelcoming environment? It’s quite simple really—they’re not there to just sell coffee, they’re there to push the brand. They’re after the coverage that the controversial move will stir up, and it won’t matter if they sell enough cups or not.



Starbucks’ Motivation

Starbucks is a global brand, present on 6 continents and 70+ countries and territories. They have more than 27,000 locations all over the world and are posed to “conquer” more in the future. So why bother opening one more in Italy? Starbucks sees this move as something beyond opening a flagship store. It’s about taking the challenge of setting up shop in a place that openly rebukes your existence. By doing so, the coffee chain aims to accomplish several things:

·       People are talking, raising brand awareness not only in Italy, but everywhere else in the world. The move immediately got people talking. As early as March 2018, they’ve already announced their plans to enter Italy. By the time their first store opened in Milan on September, everyone’s fully tuned in to their every move.

·     Covers up Starbucks’ recent scandals. Aside from generating buzz for the brand, this move also drowns out the negative publicity that Starbucks gained in the previous months. Last April, two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia store while they’re waiting for a friend. The manager was fired, thousands of stores had to close for mandatory racial sensitivity training, and the brand definitely took a hit.

·       The youth gets more engaged thanks to social media. If there’s one factor that could help Starbucks succeed in Italy, it will be the youth. Starbucks appeals to trend-loving, social media-sharing younger generation, so the best target for their marketing campaigns are the younger, more open-minded Italians.

·       Italy loves good food. Aside from coffee, the Milan store also offers pastries, bread and pizza from a wood-fired oven, and more. They’re not just selling coffee, they’re selling a whole dining experience inside a sprawling coffee shop complex.



Why it is doomed to fail

The expansion to Italy will be a failed experiment for the global chain. Starbucks may have invested a lot on their latest store, but it will take more than that to convince the Italians. It won’t be a total failure, though. It is in a prime location, in the historic Poste building near the cathedral in Piazza Cordusio. It is guaranteed to have a stream of visitors, but they’ll mostly be tourists longing for a taste of the good ‘ol frappe. But it will remain just that: a tourist attraction. The target consumers, the locals, would still go to their favourite espresso bar, get a shot or two, and go on with their daily lives. And why is that? Here’s a look at some of the roadblocks to Starbucks’ success in Italian soil:

Coffee is deeply rooted in Italy’s culture. Coffee, in Italy, will always be an espresso. It is a coffee-making process started and perfected in the country, that’s why Italians are extremely proud of it. The first espresso machine was patented in 1884 in Italy, and it was mass produced in the early 1900s. It was one of Italy’s best exports, recognized all over the world. That’s why it’s something that can’t be undone by an overpriced American coffee, at least not in the next couple of years.

There’s an unwritten rule in drinking coffee in Italy that limits the consumption of any milky form of coffee to the early morning hours. That means no cappuccino, caffe latte, and latte macchiato after 10 AM. Break this rule and you’ll definitely raise the eyebrows of the barman. Longstanding practices like these are the real hurdles for Starbucks’ success. You can’t convince the locals to ditch their age-old beliefs and practices for something they already consider as inferior.

One store is not enough to change the old ways. The first store opened with so much publicity, it was featured in all the “world news” segments of every news outlet. It became a much-discussed topic overnight, and everyone had something good to say about the move. Well, except for the Italians. Even before the actual opening, Italians are already expressing their disgust with the move. A Facebook and Twitter poll conducted by The Local Italy asking whether or not Starbucks would be welcome, garnered a resounding 87 percent “NO.”

After the first store was officially opened, the public was still lukewarm to the idea of having such a store in the community. Locals pointed out that the price is too high, compared to a good Milanese espresso going for just 1 Euro. A typical Starbucks drink would cost 3 times more. As for the taste, Italians like their coffee strong and bold, so it’s hard to convince them to switch to sweetened, diluted beverages.

According to Howard Schultz, the Milan store is just the first of many planned for their Italy expansion. But none of these would be as grand as the first one. The Milan store was the flagship, that’s why it is the main attraction, complete with all the bells and whistles that you can cram inside a Starbucks “roastery.” But the next stores will be the ones directly competing with the local espresso bars in the country. It’s hard to imagine these stores convincing a lot of locals to switch to their side, considering the price and the quality of coffee they offer.



Starbucks is a global brand, so opening a store in Italy is not an unprecedented move. It may come as a shock to some, but it’s really one of coffee chain giant’s calculated move to gain more attention to the brand. It’s not about selling coffee in the country of espresso, it’s more about making a statement that it’ there to take the challenge head on. But this move could be there undoing. There are a lot of barriers to entry that hinders them from totally succeeding in Italy. One of them is the deep love of their culture, and that includes their coffee. They’re coffee snobs for a reason, and one store won’t really undo that defining characteristic of the Italians. The buzz that Starbucks generated before opening the store and the media coverage they got was nothing more than a PR storm. It drew attention to the brand and not the store itself. That type of marketing won’t be enough to sustain a foothold in Italy. As the attention slowly shifts away from their first Starbucks store, Italians would go on their merry way, sipping coffee like the way it should be: straight, strong, and in small doses.



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