It's being widely reported that the coffee chain, Starbucks, is trying to beef up its profits in Europe to try and match the dominance it sees at home in the U.S. The coffee company is a giant in America but sees only 2% of its operating profits coming from Europe, the Middle East and Africa combined.
In attempt to change this, the company is bringing in Michelle Gass - a former leader in the U.S. turnaround of Starbucks - and the women responsible for their Frappuccino drinks.
Starbucks hopes to repeat some of the magical success it's seen in America but for all its business might, clever marketing and brute dominance of the coffee house market, we think Starbucks may struggle to persuade the Europeans to change their coffee drinking habits and here's why...
Quick, Easy and Cheap
I've lived in Italy now for almost a year and noted some interesting differences in the way Italians consume coffee in comparison with the Americans or the English. Coffee is regular in Italy, it happens daily - millions of times.
From the hours of 0800 - 1100 the aroma of roasted bean permeates the air as busy Italians rush about their morning routines. Yes it's routine, it's quick and it's affordable - for a cappuccino and brioche (my chosen tipple) you'll pay just over 2.00 Euros and be out of the place in three minutes flat.
Starbucks in comparison is a different beast entirely. First off what do I order? There's enough with the basic options yet starbucks has somehow managed to overcomplicate it with at least ten variations on the brew. All this is before you get to the size, a luxury not even offered in most italian coffee bars.
The sheer size of the coffee cups from Starbucks is enough to scare most European. Even a small coffee, coming in at 12 ounces, has got to be three times the size of a regular coffee in Italy and don't even think of ordering take out. Take Away ? Being from England, a market more similar to the U.S than any other in Europe, I have got used to ordering my coffee to go. Something to stroll with, enjoy on my walk to work, however, here in Italy you can do order to take away - but it's just not right. I do do it - most mornings - but I always feel a little bit dirty as I say those words - portare via.
You see coffee here is more than a corporate commodity, it's not a fashion statement and it's not something that can be packaged a thousand different ways - you don't play around with it - you drink it standing or to cleanse you digestive system after a meal and if you sit to enjoy it, you do so at least in a place that serves nice tasting coffee.
Starbucks has caught on because of a statement people make when they're in there.The feeling people get from enjoying their coffee sat in those big comfy chairs while reading a book - or trying to be the next J.K.Rowling with laptop poised as they search for that opening line. In India this movement is working, as people, used to the offering a chai tea on the roadside, embrace the idea of coffee houses as somewhere to hang out and not just somewhere to drink.
This culture already exists in most of Europe - especially when you look at places like Spain, Italy and France and realise that the tradition and history of coffee has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years.
These are the cultural hubs of Europe and the birthplace of cafe society - they've seen Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Jean-Paul Sartre grace their counters, sipping brews and sharing ideas, after all - Howard Schulz - the man who invented Starbucks, was initially inspired after a trip to Italy.
Coffee here is more than a treat, something to look forward to or something that becomes a conscious purchase - it's something you do naturally, three times a day - a way of life. I seriously wonder if Starbucks can really convince the Europeans to trade in their existing coffee culture and swap it all for a frappuchino with wi-fi...