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In the early stages of the pandemic we set out three simple principles to guide our decision-making: to prioritise the health and wellbeing of our customers and partners, to play a constructive role in supporting health and government officials as they work to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, and to show up in a positive and responsible way to serve our communities.
This consistent approach has enabled us to navigate the many challenges created by the health crisis as we looked to reopen our stores across the Asia Pacific to offer customers a safe, familiar and convenient Starbucks experience. Today, we’ve reopened a majority of our stores in Asia, with modified operations developed in step with new public health guidelines and the evolving needs of our customers.
The passion and dedication of our partners has been essential for our successful reopening strategy. Many of our partners and their families continue to feel the impact of Covid-19 on their everyday lives, which is why Starbucks established a first-of-its kind Global Partner Emergency Relief Program to support partners in company-operated and -licensed retail store markets. We pledged US$10 million to provide one-time, direct relief grants for partners who needed access to emergency support during those first crucial months.
In all of our markets, partners also shared their support of frontline responders and healthcare workers through food and coffee donations. In Indonesia, home to our beloved Sumatra coffee, partners shared their support and appreciation for coffee farmers in the region by donating more than 1500 handmade facial coverings.
IR: What are some of the interesting customer insights/behaviours that you’ve observed since the pandemic, and how do you think it will impact the way that Starbucks operates in the future to suit their new lifestyles and needs?
ST: We know that our customers are seeking safe, familiar and convenient experiences. In response to these evolving needs, we have accelerated our plans for the Starbucks digital ecosystem, with a focus on mobile ordering and contactless pickup experiences, to give both customers and partners more peace of mind. This digital innovation has allowed us to reduce the number of physical touchpoints in our stores and lay a strong foundation for developing deeper digital relationships with our customers.
As we emerge from the health crisis and towards long-term recovery, digital innovation will continue to play a significant role in strengthening our connections with customers. We are focused on expanding our digital programs and experiences such as the Starbucks Rewards program, Mobile & Pay and delivery, to provide a seamless Starbucks experience in stores and online.
We also continue to expand offerings such as drive-through, kerbside pickup and delivery, so that customers can choose how they want to receive their favourites from Starbucks.
Importantly, the pandemic has brought new significance to the word ‘community’ by reminding us about the importance of human connection and what it means to share experiences with one another. Starbucks remains committed to providing the ‘third place’ – a warm and welcoming environment where people can gather and build a sense of community. As people look to re-engage with their communities in safe, socially distanced ways, the third place has never been more relevant for providing those opportunities to reconnect and heal.
IR: Can you please tell me about the experiential Starbucks Roastery stores across the APAC region? What is the aim of the stores and what are some of the most interesting features in them?
ST: The Starbucks Reserve Roasteries in Shanghai and Tokyo were created as immersive, theatrical experiences for customers to study and appreciate coffee craft and the roasting process. They also act as innovation labs for us to experiment and develop new beverages, which go on to inspire our offerings across the market.
Roasteries also provide a global platform from which to spotlight Starbucks Reserve coffee. For example, Starbucks Yunnan Reserve coffee, grown in Pu’er in Yunnan Province, is roasted and available exclusively at the Roastery in Shanghai.
The Roasteries have also served as inspiration for new Starbucks concepts across the region, like the Dewata Coffee Sanctuary in Indonesia which features an onsite 1000sqf (93sqm) coffee farm, seedling nursery and an interactive digital wall for customers to immerse themselves in the coffee journey at the source.
IR: Given Starbucks is such a large global franchise, how do you ensure that when you open stores that you’re localised and part of the community?
ST: Every market in Asia is unique and diverse, and our partners in those markets understand what makes their communities special. To ensure we deliver the unparalleled Starbucks experience in a thoughtful and locally relevant way, we empower people to bring their best thinking, to challenge, and to really make a difference to the communities we serve. Our partners and their connection to their local customers are the major reasons we stay relevant across so many diverse regions.
Furthermore, as a global coffee chain we’re uniquely positioned to help grow and develop the coffee industry across Asia and shine a global spotlight on the region’s incredible coffee-growing communities. We have a significant number of stores in coffee-origin markets such as Indonesia, Vietnam, China and India, which allows us to develop unique relationships to local farmers and spotlight locally grown, small-lot coffees. Our customers in these markets also inspire us to develop and innovate locally relevant beverages based on beloved flavours. In Vietnam, we introduced Dolce Misto in 2015 to pay tribute to the unique taste of the local coffee culture. This was a product designed specifically for customers in Vietnam, which has a long and celebrated coffee history.
As important gathering places, our stores are another way we tailor each store to each community. We regularly collaborate with local artists to honour unique local culture and pay tribute to the neighborhoods we serve. For example, we recently remodelled a store in Seoul, near Hwangudan – a designated national historical site built in 1897. The store reflects the designs of Hwangudan as part of our ongoing efforts to celebrate and support the preservation of traditional culture in South Korea.
IR: I’m really impressed with Starbucks’ commitment to diversity and inclusion in its stores.
ST: At Starbucks, we always strive to create a culture that values and respects diversity and inclusion. We do this by creating welcoming working environments where our partners from all walks of life are proud to wear the green apron each day.
When we opened the Signing Store in Kuala Lumpur in 2016, it was the first-of-its-kind at Starbucks. Our goal was to provide more career opportunities for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community through training and coaching, and ultimately recruit new Deaf partners on an ongoing basis. The Kuala Lumpur Signing Store has been very successful, and Malaysia opened a second store in Penang last year. One veteran barista of the Signing Store in Kuala Lumpur relocated to Penang to take on a shift supervisor role, demonstrating the value that these opportunities create for our partners to build their careers at Starbucks. In addition, the Signing Store in Malaysia has inspired similar Signing Stores in Washington DC, Guangzhou and Tokyo, which opened in June this year.
Other markets in the region have also hosted annual barista championships for partners with disabilities to showcase the tremendous talent of our partners and demonstrate how we all can take part in creating an accessible, inclusive workplace.
South Korea is another market leading in innovative programs for partners. Korea pioneered the Returning Mothers Program in 2016, which offers women returning to the workforce after maternity leave the flexibility to work shorter hours and balance their careers and family. More than 80 per cent of our partners in Korea are women, so this is a really meaningful benefit that demonstrates why Starbucks is a wonderful place to build a career. Starbucks Korea also provides post-retirement career opportunities for senior citizens looking for a new start and do something they love in their retirement. Last year, we opened an elderly barista training centre in Gunpo, a small city located south of Seoul, which is set to train more than 2100 elderly baristas to run their own cafes.
We were also excited to share the recent news of two stores staffed entirely by women in India, which aim to help address inequalities face in the workforce while also providing partners a supportive and encouraging work environment. These locally developed, locally relevant initiatives reflect Starbucks’ ongoing commitment to empowering women to take the lead.
Creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive working environment is one of our key priorities, and we will continue to invest and innovate in unique programs to support this vision across Asia.
IR: I know that Starbucks is quite an innovative company and last year, it launched its own research hub in Seattle. Tell me about that.
ST: The Tryer Centre is Starbucks’ secret sandbox for every flavour of innovation, from product to process to store design. We are all looking forward to the global projects being developed and tested at Tryer Centre.
In Asia, we focus on creating innovative customer experiences and providing a differentiated product offering in this dynamic and diverse region. From a store experience perspective, Asia Pacific is home to a diverse range of store formats, including Reserve bars, Signing Stores and our unique Community Store model, all of which help us build meaningful connections with our customers and the communities we serve. From a product innovation perspective, inspired by traditional tea cultures in the region and celebrating popular new flavour and texture combinations, we launched Starbucks Teavana exclusively for customers in Asia.
We are always seeking opportunities to innovate and enhance the Starbucks experience, whether through creating new experiences or innovative beverages to strengthen our connection with customers here in Asia.
This article was originally published in the Inside Retail Asia November quarterly magazine.