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How Starbucks Has Been Able To Conquer Italians

I'm from Italy. Here I am, writing about food from my country. I also write about food I like from other countries.

A white chocolate mocha at an Italian Starbucks coffee shop

A white chocolate mocha at an Italian Starbucks coffee shop

Why is Starbucks so successful in the world? The reasons are many: surely their beverages are delicious. In addition, the culture of accomodating people at the tables, with the ability to stop even for long time and benefit from WiFi connection, is something liked by people who want to drink their favorite Frappuccino while studying or working. In addition, also the idea of taking a coffee beverage away and drinking it while walking and doing something else is nice. Starbucks has literally created a new way to enjoy coffee and people welcomed it, exactly like it is happening with bubble tea.

Starbucks has always been skeptical of entering the Italian market

People traveling to Italy have surely noticed one thing: in this country you won't find chains like Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza or Starbucks. Pizza chains avoided to enter a market which is, for obvious reasons, saturated of artisanal Italian pizzerias, just like coffee chains avoided to start a business here, where Italian coffee tradition is totally the opposite of what Starbucks offers in the USA and the rest of the world: here you would mostly drink 'espresso', 'cappuccino' and other hot beverages you have at the moment while standing at the counter of the Italian coffee shop. Here in Italy coffee is seen as something to drink at the moment in a minute before going elsewhere, otherwise you may choose to sit at a table, but usually for just having your drink and nothing more: here the 'Starbucks culture' made of staying in the coffee shop for long time and use WiFi connection is only followed by so called 'lounge bars' and other places explicitly targeted to this, while traditional Italian coffee shop usually have nothing like this.

Times change, in Italy too

The reason why chains like Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza avoided to enter the Italian market for long time is because they were very concerned about their business model's possible failure in a country in which there is a certain pride for local traditions, sometimes a pride which may end in a little closure towards new things. This is still something that commonly happens with the oldest generations, that are culturally bond to the tradition they follow from decades and are less keen to try new things like 'drinking a Frappuccino while walking'. Still, the world changes and Italy too: despite it is not common to find someone who drinks Italian coffee since he was a teen and who suddenly wants to try a new coffee habit, young people are still those who, due to social media, to movies, to a general less strict tie to what are the local traditions (it is understandable if you think that oldest generations of Italians drink coffee the way they mean it since their youth, while new generations are surely newbies into the world of coffee), tend to welcome new things like Starbucks coffee in their country. Of course they don't give up on their Italian traditions, they simply want to try something new. That is the reason why Starbucks has decided to enter the Italian market 2 years ago: Domino's Pizza did the same too.

Me, drinking at a Starbucks coffee shop

Me, drinking at a Starbucks coffee shop

First Starbucks in Italy is a 'premium' coffee shop

The way Starbucks approached the Italian market is what we could imagine as a 'cautious' approach: if you think the first Italian coffee shop by the Siren to be like the one near your house, you are actually wrong. To better give you an idea, Domino's Pizza approached Italian market by selling Italian-style pizza, while also offering some of their American specialties too: still we are talking something which is totally targeted to Italian taste. The same, Starbucks managed to open their first coffee shop here in Milan, in the city centre: it is a giant building, resulting from renewal of an old post office, with a modern and futuristic environment. Still, the fact that catches attention is that the first Italian coffee shop open by the Seattle-based chain is not a common Starbucks: it is a Starbucks Reserve Roastery.

how-starbucks-has-been-able-to-conquer-italians
how-starbucks-has-been-able-to-conquer-italians
Inside the Starbucks Reserve Roastery of Milan

Inside the Starbucks Reserve Roastery of Milan

Starbucks Reserve Roastery: the premium coffee experience

The world features few Starbucks Reserve Roasteries and all of them are located in the city centres of big metropolitan areas. The coffee chain managed to welcome Italy by opening one of their most exclusive shops, but how does a Starbucks Reserve Roastery differ from a 'normal' one? In Italy the Roastery serves mostly Italian coffee beverages, coming again to the idea of 'adapting to local taste'. In addition to the most classic ones, the Roastery added some special creations targeted to the local market and served at the moment (you can still ask for takeaway cup if you want, but it is not something automatic like in your local Starbucks). Coffee is also roasted in the same building and you can even choose among different variants of blends in order to compose your beverage. This is what made Starbucks a 'temple of coffee' in the centre of Milan, something huge and definitely welcoming Italian tradition of coffee. This first opening has given the Italians a message: 'we are not here to replace Italian coffee tradition, but to welcome it'.

Some coffee drinks ordered at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery of Milan

Some coffee drinks ordered at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery of Milan

A matcha cappuccino and a lemon plumcake at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery of Milan

A matcha cappuccino and a lemon plumcake at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery of Milan

Next Starbucks stores in Italy are more similar to the one near your house

After having opened the Reserve Roastery, Starbucks managed to open 'traditional' coffee shops, by choosing always Milan due to its international environment and highly developed tourism, then it is gradually opening in the other big cities of the country. In this way we can notice another cautious way to approach Italian market, by choosing crowded areas and where also tourists can stop for a coffee. This strategy awarded Starbucks, that nowadays feature many customers among tourists and the same Italians: the target is still mostly composed by young people, anyway also other people try this chain, due also to the fact even the traditional coffee shops in Italy are in some way different than abroad. In particular, Starbucks in Italy has these peculiarities:

  • Featuring warm colors everywhere: Starbucks shops are designed in order to meet the Italian taste for warm colors that typically characterize our traditional coffee shops.
Inside an Italian Starbucks coffee shop

Inside an Italian Starbucks coffee shop


  • Featuring Italian ‘cornetto’ (like croissant, one of the most famous food for Italians to be eaten at breakfast) among the various pastries
  • Proposing Italian coffee drinks in addition to Frappuccino and the other beverages that have made Starbucks famoud everywhere
Italian breakfast at Starbucks

Italian breakfast at Starbucks

  • Serving food like sandwiches, pizza (this is available mostly in the Reserve Roastery and it is baked by Princi, a famous bakery in Milan) and healthy drinks like smoothies
Some sandwiches at an Italian Starbucks coffee shop

Some sandwiches at an Italian Starbucks coffee shop

Conclusions

As an a Italian, I feel Starbucks did a great job in both meeting our local coffee tradition by proposing at the same time their drinks almost everyone knows. Starbucks is actually felt here as a chain that managed to represent a meeting point between two cultures: a bit of innovation, with also the preservation of Italian traditions.

© 2020 Alessio Ganci

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