Starbucks- Putting its best cup forward
So Starbucks is finally coming to town. Nearly three years after its initial foray into the Indian market got rebuffed due to government regulations, the leading global coffee retail chain is all set to serve up its finest brew to coffee lovers across the country. Having recently entered into a tie-up with Tata Coffee (for sourcing of coffee beans), the American giant, which operates more than 16000 outlets spread across 50 countries, is hoping to garner its fair share of the rapidly growing coffee retail sector in India. The 51% FDI in single-brand retail law will require Starbucks to partner with the Tatas, who currently operate outlets under the Mr.Bean Coffee Junction brand, in order to establish its presence in the third largest economy in Asia. But how far can the American giant go in a market dominated by resident brands such as Café Coffee Day and Barista, which have already opened up more than 1200 stores in the course of the last one decade? If you ask me, quite far indeed. As for why that is, well, please bear with me as I take you through some lessons in pop psychology (one of my many not-so-useful talents).
The idea of a coffee house serving as a common meeting place may seem misplaced in a primarily tea drinking nation, but it finds particular resonance with a generation that has grown up on Hollywood rom-coms such as Sleepless in Seattle and countless re-runs of Friends on Star Worldok, so Jennifer Aniston may be way out of your league, but that’s no reason not to have a double decaf latte at the upcoming Starbucks in your neighborhood market. Furthermore, these brightly lit, stylishly decorated cafes hold a special aspirational value for the increasingly westernized Indian youth, for whom sipping coffee from those ridiculously large cups (seriously, what’s the deal with those cups??) is a chance to live out their own version of the great American Dream. Pop psychology aside, the growing popularity of the café joint can also be attributed to something far more prosaic-namely, the complete absence of decent places to meet  in most of our urban landscape, especially for those romantically inclined. Unless your idea of a great first date happens to be a cup of masala chai at the roadside thela (in which case you are probably single and don’t have to worry about such matters in any case), you would do well to head to the nearest CCD or Barista in order to keep your chances of a second date alive. Finally, though not much of a coffee aficionado myself, I have to admit my occasional visits to Barista have gone a long way in furthering my IQ-where else would I know how to tell a Macchiato from a Mocha?

So what does the future have in store for Starbucks in India? As mentioned above, potentially a lot. In a country where coffee consumption has more than doubled in the last ten years to more than 100,000 metric tons per annum, its alliance with Tata Coffee has already seen the latter’s shares register a 20% jump upon announcement of the deal. With plans of opening its first outlet within the next six months, Starbucks India is well placed to cash in on a market that has the potential to accommodate upwards of 5000 retail outlets across the country, up from the 1200 being operated at present. Whether it actually succeeds in doing so would depend on it getting its act right – I, for one, do hope it goes easy on the pricing,- charge me anything more than Rs.150 for a cup of coffee, and suddenly the thela across the road won’t seem like such a bad idea.

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