Never start a conversation with anyone in the specialty coffee or tea industry about Starbucks. Unless you have time, and lots of it. Often referred to as the Microsoft of coffee (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, see below), Starbucks has become a global leader in the coffee retail industry.
They’re simply too large not to. Not exactly a valid reason, but no other coffee retailer has a global footprint as large as Starbucks, making them a natural target for hate. Second, people in the industry are quite critical of the quality of coffee made, which isn’t a fair comparison. Imagine trying to compare a Ferrari to a Toyota. Both great manufactures in their own right, but cater to completely different markets.
Starbucks has done a great job of introducing coffee culture to the masses. The word “baristas” is no longer a foreign term known only to Italians. They educated the average consumer, and told us that it’s okay to pay a little bit more for a premium cup of coffee (subjective, I know).
Starbucks continues to grow in market size, and show no signs of slowing down. They understand their market place better than anyone. They’re niche is to target consumers willing to pay a little more for a consistently better cup of coffee, and not to a small demographic of specialty coffee consumers that prefer light roast profiles over French presses.
What I don’t agree with, is trying to cater to the specialty segment. Sure, they’re up selling better coffee’s to an existing customer base by providing a wider product offering, but that audience is relatively small within the Starbucks ecosystem to be worth considering. The lineups at Starbucks stores are already too long (worse during the summers); imagine how much slower their lineups would be if they offered pour-over and French press options? (I’m well aware that this service is available, but nobody asks).
Another challenge is sourcing enough coffee beans. Specialty coffee producers source their coffee beans using a direct trade model with smaller coffee farms. Starbucks today, is simply too large to do that. The investment in resources would be better served at expanding on a broader market than focusing on a small one. Different product offerings would alienate existing stores. If store X offered popular Kenyan coffee, and store Y offered something less desirable, would that be fair? Simply put, time and effort is better served scaling to a larger audience, than worry about a smaller segment.
Globally, the tea market is larger than coffee. Here in North America, tea is surging in popularity and in late 2012, Starbucks bought Teavana for $620 million dollars. Like coffee, the hardest part of introducing new product offerings, is educating the consumer. Once the public accepts tea, and consumes frequently, expect the specialty market for teas like Perkse, to benefit. This certainly will help out the specialty tea industry, and that’s why Starbucks is actually good for the industry, not bad.
Full disclosure, I’ve been a Starbucks gold member since 2012! I frequent their stores and drink their coffee and teas often. I roast coffee and blend teas, but I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoy Starbucks. Whether the specialty market likes to admit it or not, Starbucks has done a lot for both industries, and we should be thankful for it, not resentful.