On issues that matter …

Flavor of the Day October 20, 2012

The 19,973rd Starbucks coffee store opened to much fanfare in Mumbai today. And as with the advent of anything American, Indians seem excited about it, or may be just Mumbaikars for now. After all in American culture, Starbucks is to the morning cuppa, as denim is to style and rap is to music. It is all about attitude.

So hey, why not, Indians have it too, I mean, the attitude, and plenty of it.

But India being India, American attitudes at Starbucks Mumbai will be served in an Indian shrine like ambience – Indian teak tables, vintage Indian trunks, Indian wooden screens make up the décor, and a menu that includes tandoori paneer rolls and elaichi mawa croissants. That’s Indianisation for you – they have all done it, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut, Subway Sandwich…

Iconic and part of the American landscape though it is, even today, 40 years since it was founded first in Seattle, Washington, Starbucks continues to fizz out some of the most expensive of coffees of any fast food chain in the US.

That kind of pricing, obviously, would have been a deterrent in India – a market reality that the coffee chain was well aware of. So, at 82 rupees (a little over $2 for a tall), it is still better priced than at any of the Starbucks US locations.

Sure Starbucks, like the many Café Coffee Day outlets, will cater to a different segment of coffee drinkers in India – I would think, young, upwardly mobile, urban Indians with money and attitudes to match.

So, the entry of a global brand for the high end consumer is not something that would make much difference in a country like India. There are millions who earn less than those $2 a day.

In an economy that is yet to open up fully, Starbucks is no benign flavor of the day. They may not become as ubiquitous as the Shetty-owned Udupi restaurants that were known for their filter coffee, used to be, but the chain is known for its predatory methods of doing business.

I was never really a fan of Starbucks in all the years that I lived in the US. My main grouse was that, with cream and sugar, their coffees invariably turn tepid. And, for better or worse, I like my coffee hot.

Srirekha Chakravarty


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