Monday, July 16, 2012

Where is Starbucks in Italy?

 I have always wanted to visit Italy and its beautiful history. Apart from the architectural allure of the place, Italy as a country has always held a certain charm. I had read in books and watched in movies of the little coffee shops and espresso bars lining Italian streets. As a coffee lover and a serial café hopper, the strong coffee culture of Italy was very attractive to me. Naturally, when debating on where to go for a summer holiday, Italy (specifically Rome) was top of my list.

Rome did not disappoint. Walking amongst ancient ruins such as the Coliseum and the Roman Forum where early civilization was enchanting and enriching. The city itself was amazing and had innumerable sculptures representing its rich tapestry of history. The winding alleys and streets of Rome also held so many quaint coffee shops and espresso bars. I was in my element, and tried several shops (short of giving myself a caffeine shock). However, despite there being a decently strong American brand presence, one thing grew clear to me as I toured Rome. There wasn’t a Starbucks in Rome! Could it be that Italy, the country that had inspired Starbucks’ creation did not have even one of its own? 

It turns out that the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, has been asked that very question countless of times. His response has always been that Starbucks will eventually go into Italy’s market, which brings up the question – What is it about Italy that has preventing Schultz from entering even up till now?

There is a huge difference in the original Italian coffee culture and the inspired Starbucks one. Italians pride themselves on uniqueness and diversity, whereas Starbucks is ultimately an American model that pursues growth through franchises. More fundamentally, Italians and Americans drink different types of coffee, namely espressos versus the American drip coffee. Italians also drink their espressos in the café itself, whereas the working American population is rarely seen without a cupboard cup of coffee in hand aboard the subway. Such differences, while seemingly insignificant and small, could seriously hamper a Starbucks foray into Italy.

Furthermore, could you imagine the humiliation if Starbucks were to venture into the Italian market, only to fail? Should the Italians stamp a seal of disapproval on the Starbucks brand, it would be a very embarrassing situation for the international coffee powerhouse. Coffee in Italy is extremely readily available and it would prove a daunting task for Starbucks to establish a coffee franchise there. It is no wonder that Schultz has hesitated for so long in bringing Starbucks to Italy.

Despite such reservations, there is potential for the Starbucks model in Italy. Italians are normally quick about drinking their espressos because it tastes the best when it’s fresh. Starbucks, on the other hand, has managed to create a café culture in America (and influenced many other regions of the world, including places like Singapore and China). Rather than competing directly in the market for quick coffees, Starbucks should capitalize on its strengths, which is creating comfortable environments that serve yummy coffee for people to leisurely interact with one another, but with an Italian touch. By carefully presenting a different way of enjoying not just Italian-type coffee but also American-style coffee, Starbucks could very well succeed in the country that inspired its birth. Judging by the success of McDonald’s “McCafe” in Italy, Starbucks should have more confidence that its brand will do well there.

However, of course, such things are always a lot easier said than done. Penetrating the Italian market will require a lot of careful strategizing to get it just right. We will just have to see when Howard Schultz decides its finally time to return “home”. 


  1. There would be no competition against italian espressos at the italian bars. Starbucks drinks are a deeply different kind of product where coffe is only a smaller detail. So I don't see why to be afraid of too many bars in the italian cities. Just to start, open a first Sturbucks shop in the very center of Rome or Venice or Florence and see what happens. No risk at all because of so many tourists, and then you would gain a great reputation and take the next step of spreading all over the country.

  2. I'm italian and I think Starbucks could do very well here... in big cities like Rome, Milan, Florence, etc. I don't see any risk...

  3. They arent a big country like the rest :)))))

  4. I think starbucks could do well in Italy, in spite of most italians I've met not liking american coffee. Offering the american pastries and a good selection of coffee and tea would likely be a success.

  5. Well, i think it would work, but not for the coffee itself: italians love their espresso and wouldn't never change it with some american, diluited drink. On the other hand, starbucks isn't just coffe, the brand would become very popular among young people that are bewitched by exotic new things.
    By the way, i really hope it never comes here, long live espresso and italian coffee culture.

  6. Well I guess it only needs a clever strategy and a business plan to enter Italy. Its just like any other business problem which needs to be carefully though of. The Italian market might be difficult to enter but Italians love coffee so that is already a common theme. People are changing everywhere with time and future young generation thinks a lot differently from the older generation and they are the target customers in the future.

  7. I think Starbucks will do well in the big cities because tourists (especially American) are so set in their ways that they will hit a Starbucks before trying delicious Italian espresso. I'm a tour manager here, and I know plenty of my guests would go to Starbucks if they had a chance. To me, it's like bringing Taco Bell to Mexico.

  8. I am Italian and in all honesty, the only reason I would love to have a Starbucks in Italy is because I'm also American. However, no Italian wants what the world has to offer, we already have everything we need at hand, Starbucks or any other coffee shop chain will not be accepted because the people here just don't care for anything else but their local coffee shop where they have gone their whole life. Also, many people would say that the tourists would go, but why would they do that? They came to Italy for it's originality, tourists would rather drink their coffee the Italian way just because they are here.

  9. I am from the US and have traveled to Italy every year since 1997 and am fluent in Italian. Have been all over the country. One of the small things l love about being in Italy is the sound of the clinking of espresso cups and the smell of fresh cornetti eminating from the coffee bars. However, when I am in a large city like Rome, I don't appreciate being treated like a second class person or tricked into having a seat... "no really, make yourself at home, just grab a seat"... then getting charged 3, sometimes 4 times the price because you take a short sit in an alley that reeks of piss but happens to be 200 meters from Piazza Venezia (a big fat traffic clogged roundabout)...we aren't talking about Piazza Navona here. I hate asking "do you charge to sit" at every bar I go into. These places often don't post prices.

    I think Starbucks in Italy should be thought of more in terms about the space itself...a place to enjoy an espresso or cappuccino that is spacious and welcoming to sit and gather....the wifi and charging stations are nice too. There should also be an ample standup bar for those who want to take a shot an run.

    Lastly. many bars in Italia do NOT make a good Americano. I think they figure we won't notice or care if it's a crappy one, so they phone it in. An iced espresso without a ton of sugar (cafe freddo) would be a nice option too. This is pretty much impossible to find.