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VIDEO: Brew-ha-ha

Starbucks unveils its first Kingston location

Thursday, June 28, 2018

“We believe in the giant potential of the tiny bean,” reads the quote painted on a wall just left of the entrance. The piercing sage green eyes of a lion, pictured on the mural, seem to follow your every move. The modern furniture pieces are as beautiful to look at as they are comfortable to sit in. And the smiling face that says “welcome” makes you feel as if you've met your new best friend. This isn't Art Basel, folks, this is Starbucks Liguanea!

On Sunday, June 24, friends, family and supporters gathered to celebrate the grand (or should we say grande) opening of the Corporate Area's first Starbucks. The second on the island, this location is being touted as one of the most stunning in Latin America and the Caribbean. In his address, Audley Shaw, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, urged Jamaicans to support Starbucks. He regards the company's investment in the island as a “point of departure to aggressively revive the Jamaican coffee industry”.

At its peak (no pun intended), Blue Mountain Coffee had 500,000 boxes of coffee being produced and now, 230,000. In its heyday, High Mountain Coffee produced 400,000 boxes, now just 20,000 boxes. The revelation of these stats by the minister left many jaw-dropped!

It's easy to disparage the US-based chain entering the local market. Take note, however, that Jamaica wasn't even on the company's radar. It took Adam Stewart, deputy chairman, Sandals Resorts International, and Ian Dear, chief executive officer, Margaritaville Caribbean Group, five years of strategic planning to make Starbucks Jamaica (officially Caribbean Coffee Baristas Limited) a reality. In his remarks, Stewart noted that the store's opening “marks a change in the Jamaican coffee farming industry”. Because it's not about “how do we bring Starbucks to Jamaica, but how do we take a little piece of Jamaica, through Starbucks, to the rest of the world?” From its inception, Caribbean Coffee Baristas Limited received a commitment from Starbucks to use Jamaica as a platform to export the island's coffee to the 78 countries in which Starbucks operates.

Gary Watson, regional advisory officer, Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority, spoke about a group of local coffee farmers and producers being sent by Starbucks Jamaica to Costa Rica. Hacienda Alsacia is Starbucks' only coffee farm in the world and is located in Alajuela, Costa Rica. According to Watson, the trip “opened the eyes” of the eight women and four men from the Blue Mountain's major coffee producing parishes — St Thomas, Portland and St Andrew. The group was exposed to equity practices, efficiencies and techniques that will allow them to “be profitable, reduce pests and grow very good coffee”. When asked about the benefits of the trip to Hacienda Alsacia, Watson noted that “the lives of the farmers have been improved”.

As with the support of family-owned coffee enterprises, Starbucks also creates relationships with local suppliers in the countries in which it operates. “All the dairy used in Jamaica is from local dairies,” shared Ross Goldstein, director of operations, Latin America Caribbean Region, Starbucks. This is in addition to buying local sugar, hiring local artists like Fiona Godfrey (who painted the aforementioned lion mural,) and creating jobs.

So far, Starbucks Jamaica has created over 60 jobs and, by the end of the year, it will have created 200. Ian Dear noted that Caribbean Coffee Baristas Limited has “aggressive expansion plans for Jamaica”. This includes two more Starbucks locations in Kingston and bringing the total number of Montego Bay locations to four by year-end.

In 2006, American psychologist Joseph A Michelli wrote The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary. In the book, he explores how Starbucks “reaches out to entire communities, listens to individual co-workers and consumers, seizes growth opportunities in every market and custom designs a truly satisfying experience.” It's no surprise that Fortune named it one of the world's most admired companies. And that, since 1992, its NASDAQ stock has risen by 5,000 per cent.

The Instagram page for Starbucks Jamaica is an exemplar in social media engagement. Whoever manages the account not only replies to queries with alacrity but he/she is also quick to like the posts of happy customers who post pictures of their beverages. Someone posted, “would love to see some innovation from brand leaders like @starbucksjamaica to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics and disposables.” To which Starbucks Jamaica replied, “Thank you for your feedback! We appreciate your love for the environment and we share the same aspirations as you do of seeing less pollution. We highly encourage the use of reusable cups, mugs and tumblers, and are working every day to find better solutions to better our environment.” However, the question “do you guys sell Milo or Horlicks” goes unanswered. And, rightly so.

Each Starbucks region has that one item which is unique to its part of the world. In Peru it's the Lúcuma Frappuccino®; the Aussie Beef Pie in Australia; United Arab Emirates has a Date Macchiato; you have to travel to South Korea to sip on an Avocado Yogurt Blended Drink; and here in Jamaica, we have a jerk chicken and cheddar sandwich. No matter where Starbucks goes, the company ensures that it incorporates the local community, embraces the culture and creates a sense of community.

Members of staff aren't called employees but “partners”. To the uninitiated, this is symptomatic of Silicon Valley mumbo-jumbo. But to Thursday Food it is a clear sign that Starbucks is entering into a long-term union not only with its team, but also with the island of Jamaica. We look forward to a long, happy and symbiotic relationship.