Can Starbucks conquer Italy?

47 years after Starbucks first opened its doors to the world, the brand has unveiled its first ever store in the homeland of coffee: Italy. Established in Milan, just steps away from the landmark La Scala opera house, the store is a sight to behold - a building of Tuscan marble which encompasses not only a coffee roaster, but also an aperitif bar and a liquid nitrogen affogato station. A premium store, it will stock food by Italian baker Rocco Princi, and sell espressos at the steep price of €1.80.

Starbucks had always been noticeably absent from Italy, even though it is where former CEO Howard Schultz claims to have had his first vision for the brand in 1983. So, why has it not infiltrated the Italian market until now? It is simply because coffee culture is very different in Italy. The Italians just don’t drink coffee like the West does - they take their coffee culture very seriously. An espresso is bought for €1 maximum and drunk whilst standing at a bar. Coffee is thus accessible to all - everyone can afford a coffee - unlike the £3.20 Frappuccino at Starbucks. Italian coffee culture doesn’t discriminate - everyone is included. No wonder 6 billion espressos are drunk in Italy every year.

This refined Italian coffee culture has been alien to Starbucks, where long, frothy diluted coffee drinks are sipped whilst people pour over a book or catch up with a friend. And having seen brands such as Ben & Jerry’s fail to take on another staple ingredient of Italian culture, ice cream, Starbucks needed to make sure that it was altering its brand to fit the Italian market. In order to infiltrate the Italian market, offering an Italian take on the corporate conglomerate was critical, and the market must be treated with humility and respect. Starbuck’s partnership with Italian brand management companies has helped them to fully understand the market and tailor their products to the Italian needs, such as offering locally roasted coffee. And Starbucks was wise to choose Milan, the most cosmopolitan of all Italian cities. I dread to think how a venture like this would’ve been received in traditional Rome.

It remains to be seen whether Starbucks will really manage to stick its corporate foot in the door of Italian coffee culture. Whilst the younger generation, in an age of increasing globalisation, is starting to slowly turn away from Italian tradition, there is a chance that the novelty of Starbucks will rub off quite quickly, and the firm, like so many before them, will have failed on Italian soil. But, for now, it is an exciting new venture, and bound to be a location that both locals and tourists alike will be desperate to try out.

11th February 2019