Starbucks latte maintains its influence in China

2021-01-26 12:05:33

The entrance of the Starbucks coffeehouse in Hefei, capital of Anhui province. It was the first branch to open in the province in 2011. ZHOU DAOXIAN/FOR CHINA DAILY HEFEI-In a country with time-honored tea culture, Su Yang (pseudonym), has developed the habit of drinking coffee, largely due to the influence of Starbucks. "It's difficult to start a day without a cup of coffee," says Su, a 29-year-old white-collar worker in Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui province, where, in 2011, the first Starbucks branch in the province opened in 2011. The first Starbucks outlet on the Chinese mainland opened in Beijing in 1999, a pioneering move to nurture a taste for coffee in a tea-drinking culture. However, purchasing a cup of cappuccino worth 19 yuan ($2.3 back then) was very rare at a time when the same amount could buy a 10 kilogram bag of rice. The company's initial foray into the Chinese market failed to generate a profit in its first nine years. "We were not successful in the early years," acknowledges Howard Schultz, Starbucks Corp's chairman emeritus. "It took us several years to get traction and gain success and loyalty," he says in an interview with China Global Television Network. With the rapid economic development and expanding middle-class population in China, over the past two decades, Starbucks coffeehouses have sprung up all across the country, making China the largest overseas market for the brand. Su's passion for coffee grew as more Starbucks outlets opened in her city. It took the brand only a few years to evolve from a refreshing drink at work to a part of life. "You can spot a Starbucks outlet in almost every shopping mall. I also order Starbucks online when I'm at home," Su says. Currently, Starbucks has more than 4,800 brick-and-mortar outlets in about 200 Chinese cities, employing nearly 60,000 staff, according to a recent report by the company. In the fourth quarter of 2020, a record 259 new outlets opened on the Chinese mainland. Being a big Starbucks fan, Su enjoys spending time at the US coffee chain, which she calls a "third place" between home and work. The practice is quite opposite to the takeout culture of Starbucks outlets in the United States. "I usually order a latte and chat with my friends or do my homework here," says Chen Xun (pseudonym), a freshman from Anhui University. During the winter holiday, the 19-year-old became a part-time barista at a nearby Starbucks coffeehouse, a job he has always wanted to try his hand at. "I love working in Starbucks, where music and a drifting coffee aroma fill the air," Chen says. "I believe Starbucks will become increasingly popular in China just like KFC. It will be accepted by different age groups," says Su, who is also into collecting Starbucks peripheral products such as coffee beans, mugs and stir sticks. As of the end of the last fiscal year, Starbucks had over 13.5 million active members in China, the company says, adding that it aims to expand the number of coffeehouses to 6,000 across 230 Chinese cities by the end of the 2022 fiscal year. "We have always been confident about the vitality and resilience of the Chinese market. We are embracing the opportunity with further investment and innovation, hoping to contribute more to promote the development of the industry of specialty coffee in China," says Belinda Wong, Starbucks China chairman and CEO. Xinhua