It’s normal to feel skeptical about Starbucks’ expansion into Italy because, in Italy, ordering a caffè is much different than asking for a grandé, extra-hot, no-foam, almond-milk latté and running out the door with it to chug at your desk.
Sometime in the 1980’s, a guy named Howard Shultz took a trip to Milan and enjoyed the coffee there. He probably enjoyed the coffee more than anyone ever had because, upon his return to the Seattle, Schultz decided to start his own coffee business and called it Starbucks.
Today, Starbucks is the biggest coffee seller in the world, though not in Italy.
In Italy, ordering a caffè is much different than asking for a grandé, extra-hot, no-foam, almond-milk latté and running out the door with it to chug at your desk. In Italy, you order a caffè, and that’s what North Americans call a single espresso, and linger at the bar to enjoy alongside a bunch of others doing the same. In fact, the Italian caffè culture is so strong and deeply ingrained in their culture that Italy is the one market that Schultz has shied away from entering with the Starbucks brand.
Starbucks has announced it will open its first Italian location in Milan with great humility and respect for Italian caffè culture, and that it will be “one of the most immersive, magical retail experiences in the world.” Set to open in late 2018, the Milan Reserve Roastery will be the first Starbucks Roastery to open in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, and the fifth globally.
Located at the historic, turn-of-the-century Palazzo Delle Poste building on Piazza Cordusio, this one-of-a-kind 25,500-square-foot retail space will feature the company’s premium, small batch, Reserve coffees served in a variety of brewing methods in a beautiful environment.
The mayor of Milan may be welcoming Starbucks with open arms because Italy’s economy has been stagnant since 2000.
Italy’s youth unemployment rate is 1-in-10 with no clear signs of improvement on the horizon. Italian Millennials are poorer than any other Italians and the percentage of Italians living in poverty has more than doubled from 3.1% to 7.6%. Now over 7.5 million Italians live in poverty, and it’s the Millennials that are suffering most.
Mayor Giuseppe Sala of Milan is welcoming Starbucks to his town, and maybe he doesn’t have much choice. While Italians may not need (or want) Starbucks coffee, they need Starbucks cash and job opportunities.
Starbucks is well regarded for its employee perks, like stock options through the company’s “Bean Stock” program, customized benefits packages and funding for education — in North America, Starbucks supports baristas with 2 years of free college tuition.
It may have been Italy’s vulnerable economy that inspired Schultz’s confidence to enter Milan with the Starbucks brand, but it may be the Starbucks brand that will help Italy’s vulnerable economy to strengthen once again.