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Starbucksland has opened in Milan: the first coffee theme park

We waited for it. We have witnessed the palms’ growth. And now, from September 7, we won’t feel anymore the need to expat to sip a Grande Chai Latte with almond milk and a shot of Espresso (as my friend Ginni will always ask for). Or maybe yes, since we don’t seeany of Starbuck’s iconic drinks in the Italian menu – and neither the signature green & white cups. In the 2300 square meters in Cordusio Howard Schultz, the company’s CEO, introduced the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery – a proper coffee theme park rather than the usual coffee store. But will it fit into the patria del caffé (coffee country), satisfying the high sophisticated Italian taste?


The Italian customisation process starts from the top of the value chain. Besides its traditional Arabica Coffee, the magnificent wood-fronted bar is topped with Tuscan marble; pastries, pizzas (when has Starbucks introduced Margherita!?) are supplied by Princi, famous bakery in Milan; if you fancy a specialty drink (alcoholic, I mean), you can have it behind the 10-meter-long marble desk of the Arriviamo bar.

But let’s focus on the picky – and with high expectations- Italian customers. The first impressions Starbucks received on the web aren’t satisfying: memes and comments on social media roast the colossal coffee producer. From the “voglio il Frappuccino e le altre porcate” (“I want Frappucino and the other nasty food”) and the shocking reactions when paying the bill, what has to be noticed are the concerns about the local Italian businesses.

While this competition is perceived as a no chance game for local bars – how can a small coffee shop compete with the American colossal symbol-of-globalization? – I don’t feel that Starbucks will affect others’ revenues, and neither start a coffee inflation process as someone thinks. My view is that Starbucks Reserve Roastery aims at delivering more an experience rather than a product itself; and besides hours of queuing of the first days (we waited for ages: let us queue!), the trend is well expected to slow down in a couple of weeks – and everyone will come back to our beloved 1 euro espresso. “We arrive with humility and respect in the country of coffee”, Schultz said, and Paolo Nadalet, president of the Italian Espresso National Institution, insisted on Starbucks product differentiation, since “the coffee it serves is not like an Italian espresso but is still coffee that tastes good”.

Finally, Starbucks’ CEO is confident about the positive impact its company’s culture can have on other bars to improve service and taste. He also added that as a foreign first mover, he opened the path to new entrants: “Big chains are using our coffee machines worldwide, so this could be a big moment for the Italian market. Foreign companies want to open in Italy and we have to let them.”


The first well-known step in a marketing strategy is to understand your customers’ needs to deliver them value. Has maybe Starbucks failed in doing it in Milan? As a citizen of the old Starbucks Neverland, I can say that what we wanted from it was the go-to mug to post a picture with, to feel like those busy, urban and cool Americans we saw in movies; we wanted a cozy place where to *coff coff* study while drinking a hot latte; this is the concept that is missing in the Bel Paese,and that we maybe will never have. My feeling is that customisation wasn’t the right choice to implement this time. Some lights in the dark: Chinese tourists were spotted at 4.30 am waiting for the big opening. Maybe the 1.80 euros Espresso will not be an issue for foreigners who are abstinent from Starbucks.

Written by: Priscilla Greggio

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