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Starbucks’ Arrival May ‘Wake Up’ Italy

This article originally appeared in STiR coffee and tea magazine


By Dan Shryock

Starbucks’ announcement a year ago that it would open a new Reserve Roastery in downtown Milan prompted some skepticism in the mainstream media. One major American news organization, for example, proclaimed in a headline “Starbucks stirs up controversy in Italy.”

However, in an informal survey conducted by STiR in October 2017 of nearly 20 Italian importers, roasters, and café owners, support for the coffee retailer’s arrival was nearly unanimous.

“I am very happy for Starbucks in Italy,” said specialty coffee roaster Leonardo Lelli. “I hope Starbucks helps wake up Italian people.”

Starbucks’ fifth roastery is being constructed in Piazza Cordusio, a busy intersection in the heart of Milan and only five minutes’ walk from the Duomo di Milano, the upscale Galleria shopping district at the heart of the city’s tourism.  This will be the first Starbucks roastery in Europe.

The Reserve Roastery concept differs from a typical Starbucks store in that it roasts higher quality single-origin coffee beans on site and serves a customized menu of drinks including Teavana teas. It’s all done in a coffee-as-theater environment where customers can observe each step of the process – from burlap bag to cup – and ask questions of anyone along the way. Renowned artisan baker Rocco Princi will serve fresh food.

The roastery opening will be followed by some additional Starbucks stores across Milan, developed in partnership with the Bergamo-based Percassi real estate development company.

Action following Starbucks’ announcement was swift. Illycafe opened a shop in May 2017 not far from the new Starbucks location and Lavazza opened a flagship store in September last year within a block of the Galleria. Neither company would say the openings were in response to Starbucks’ announcement.

Those contacted by STiR were enthusiastic about the Starbucks move, hoping it will jar Italian consumers from their daily routine.

“The Starbucks Reserve will be something different, very elegant,” said Cristina Caroli, Specialty Coffee Association’s national coordinator in Italy. “It will be a status symbol. I think they will serve great espressos and a lot of bars in Milano will have to improve.”

Theresa Sandalj sees Starbucks as an excellent fit for metropolitan, fashion-forward Milan.

“We [at Sandalj Trading Company] are incredibly excited. The more variety consumers have on offer, the more a culture for coffee will spread,” she said. “I think Starbucks will be successful because it is opening in Milan, where prices are higher to begin with, and there are a lot of tourists, expats, and events like Fashion Week. I think it would not work as well if it were in a smaller, more provincial town. Consumers in Milan will definitely be willing to pay more for a Starbucks espresso.”

The Starbucks brand will attract customers who want to see firsthand what they’ve only heard about, she said, including “young people who’ve grown up seeing celebrities in pictures holding Starbucks takeaway cups, tourists, and generally everyone. The only ones who won’t are probably people who are a bit closed-minded.”

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